Hundreds of barges resumed travel along the drought-shrunken Mississippi and Ohio rivers, congressmen and senators examined stunted crops in the Plains and a Sioux medicine man sought heaven's help to end the long dry spell.

"Gentlemen, start your engines; the rat race is on," a river boat pilot said over the radio after authorities reopened the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.Showers and thunderstorms Sunday dampened many parts of America's parched midsection, including Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska, but provided little relief, the National Weather Service said.

Hot weather aggravated the drought, with temperatures of 100 degrees and up recorded as far north as Minnesota. Monday's forecast was no better: continued hot, dry weather over the Midwest and Plains.

Sections of the Mississippi and Ohio had been closed for days so dredges could deepen channels made shallow by the drought, backing up an estimated 1,800 barges on the Mississippi and 700 on the Ohio.

River traffic flowed most of Sunday but was shut down for the night at one dangerous point on the Mississippi nine miles north of Memphis, Tenn., said Bill Schult, an Army Corps of Engineers spokesman.

The last of the barges stranded on the Mississippi should make its way through a newly cleared channel near Greenville, Miss., by Monday night, said Petty Officer Dean Jones, a Coast Guard spokesman.

At noon Sunday, 47 to 52 tows were waiting to go north or south through the channel, Jones said.

On the Ohio, 24 tows were able to pass downstream after the channel at Mound City, Ill., reopened Sunday afternoon, said Coast Guard Ensign Rick Johnson.

By sundown, 70 tows were waiting to head upstream or downstream, Johnson said.

Sunday's rainfall amounted to two-thirds of an inch or less, the weather service said.

"We got a half-inch," Doris Fruend said Sunday from the farm she and her husband, Lester, operate east of Merrill, Wis. "Well, the corn, it still curled - but it kept it alive."

Even had hard rain fallen, much of it would have rolled off because the ground is too dry, said weather service meteorologist Rainer Dombrowsky. Farmers need 24 to 36 hours of light rain, he said.

Six U.S. senators and two congressmen toured acre after acre of bone-dry farms during the weekend. In Menoken, N.D., Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., told farmers he would work on legislation to guarantee crop deficiency payments to drought-stricken farmers.

"When I walk out in a field and the greatest source of protein is grasshoppers, we've got a problem," Leahy, chairman of the Senate's Agriculture Committee, said Saturday.