(Adds estimated lock reopening)
CHICAGO, Aug 31 (Reuters) - The Mississippi River was closed to vessel traffic after cracks were found in a gate at the Melvin Price Lock and Dam just north of St. Louis, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said on Thursday.
Nine northbound and six southbound barge tows were halted due to the closure, Army Corps public affairs officer Amanda Kruse said, adding that the cracks were found during a routine lock inspection on Wednesday.
“We noted some damage, which was basically cracks in the gate,” Kruse said.
Workers started on repairs by midday and were expected to continue repairing the gate through the night, with the lock tentatively scheduled to reopen by 6 a.m. CDT (1100 GMT) on Sunday, she said.
“Every effort will be made to return the lock to service earlier,” Kruse added.
More than 100 million tons of commodities move through the lock and dam system near St. Louis each year, including grain, coal and petroleum products, according to the Army Corps. (Reporting by Michael Hirtzer; Editing by Dan Grebler and Jonathan Oatis)