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Army Corps of Engineers: Drought-exposed river sandbars a danger

Rivers such as the Mississippi and Missouri are typically low in August, but this year's drought has them at their lowest point in decades.

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The banks of the Mississippi River near Vicksburg, Miss., continue to erode as the 2012 drought deepens, Monday, Aug. 6. Barges are moving down the largest waterway in the U.S. with decreased loads and at slower speeds because of the risk of hitting debris or sand.

Robert Ray/AP

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A lack of rain in the United States' midsection in recent months has reduced water levels in some of the nation's biggest rivers, exposing sandbars that experts warn could be deadly quicksand.

Rivers such as the Mississippi and Missouri are typically low in August, but this year's drought has them at their lowest point in decades. The sandbars that are revealed look like beaches, inviting boaters, fishermen and hikers to venture out. Experts agree that can be a very bad idea.

Steve Barry, emergency management chief for the Corps of Engineers office in Memphis, Tenn., said the exposed sand looks dry on top but it is really saturated mud. Combined with the undercurrent of water in the fast-moving rivers, that creates a true danger.

"If it's really wet sand and there's flowing water underneath it, that's what quicksand is," Barry said. "The other issue is that as the river flows by it undercuts. You think you're on a sandbar but you're basically on a ledge. You put enough weight on it and you end up in the river."

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