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Levee Blast Eases Floodwaters Threat to Missouri Town

Levee Blast Eases Floodwaters Threat to Missouri Town

In this image taken from video, an explosion lights up the night sky as the the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers blows an 11,000 foot hole in the Birds Point levee in Mississippi County, Mo. on Monday, May 2, 2011. Photo: S. Louis Dispatch via AP


May 03, 2011

WYATT, Missouri—The dramatic, late-night demolition of a levee sent water pouring onto thousands of acres (hundreds of hectares) of farmland Tuesday, easing the Mississippi River floodwaters threatening the tiny Illinois town of Cairo.

But the demolition project did nothing to ease the risk of more trouble downstream, where the mighty river is expected to rise to its highest levels since the 1920s in some parts of Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana. Authorities were considering using techniques similar to the Missouri project to divert on oncoming rush of water.

By Tuesday, sunny skies and dry conditions gave residents and government officials their clearest view of the inundation triggered after the Army Corps of Engineers blew a massive hold in the Birds Point levee late Monday.

A staccato series of explosions lit up the night with orange flashes and opened a massive hole in the levee, sending a wall of water onto 200 square miles (500 sq. kilometers) of corn, soybean and wheat fields. The deluge ruined crop prospects for this year and damaged or destroyed about 100 homes.

At Cairo, which sits precariously at the intersection of the swollen Mississippi and Ohio rivers, preliminary readings suggested the levee project break was doing its job. Hours after the blast, the water level at Cairo was dropping rapidly.

Before the levee was breached, the river stood at 61.72 feet (19 meters) and rising. By Tuesday morning, it had fallen to 60.4 feet (18.4 meters) and was expected to decline to 59.4 feet (18.1 meters) by Saturday, easing pressure on the floodwall protecting the town.

But if Cairo seemed to dodge disaster, ominous flooding forecasts were raising alarm from the Missouri Bootheel to near New Orleans.

Corps Maj. Gen. Michael Walsh has said he might make use of other downstream “floodways” _ giant basins surrounded by levees that can be blown open to divert floodwaters.

Officials in Louisiana and Mississippi are warning that the river could bring a surge of water unseen since 1927.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a major flood down the Mississippi River,” said George Sills, a former Army Corps engineer and levee expert in Vicksburg, Mississippi “This is the highest river in Vicksburg, Miss., since 1927. There will be water coming by here that most people have never seen in their lifetime.”

Back at the Missouri levee, the blast allowed water to pour into the river basin like a bathtub. Two smaller blasts further south on the levee were scheduled for sometime Tuesday, with goal of allowing some water to escape back into the Mississippi.

Check out the flood conditions a couple of days before the blast and the reasoning behind the controversial decision.

Associated Press writers Cain Burdeau in New Orleans and Maria Sudekum Fisher in Kansas City, Missouri, contributed to this story.

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