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Image taken from video of an explosion at the levee lights up the night sky. AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, David Carson
Levee

US army blows up river levee to save town from flooding

Army engineers have blown holes into the walls of the levee, flooding thousands of acres of farmland in a bid to prevent further flood pressure on the Illinois town, Cairo.

THE US ARMY exploded a large section of a Mississippi River levee yesterday in a desperate attempt to protect an Illinois town from rising floodwaters.

The engineer corps said the break in the Birds Point levee would help Cairo, Illinois, by diverting up to 4 feet of water off the river.

Just before Monday night’s explosions, river levels at Cairo were at historic highs and creating pressure on the floodwall protecting the town. For the Missouri side, the blasts were likely unleashing a muddy torrent into empty farm fields and around evacuated homes in Mississippi County.

Blasts

Brief but bright orange flashes could be seen above the river as the explosions went off just after 10 p.m. The blasts lasted only about two seconds. Darkness kept reporters, who were more than a half mile off the river, from seeing how fast the water was moving into the farmland.

Engineers carried out the blast after spending hours pumping liquid explosives into the levee. More explosions were planned for overnight and midday today, though most of the damage was expected to be done by the first blast.

Video uploaded by WMARabc2news

Relief

But questions remain about whether breaking open the levee would provide the relief needed, and how much water the blast would divert from the Mississippi River as more rain was forecast to fall on the region today. The seemingly endless rain has overwhelmed rivers and strained levees, including the one protecting Cairo, at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.

Maj. Gen. Michael Walsh — the man ultimately responsible for the decision to go through with the plan— has indicated that he may not stop there if blasting open the levee doesn’t do the trick. In recent days, Walsh has said he might also make use of other downstream “floodways” — basins surrounded by levees that can intentionally be blown open to divert floodwaters.

“Making this decision is not easy or hard,” Walsh said. “It’s simply grave — because the decision leads to loss of property and livelihood, either in a floodway or in an area that was not designed to flood.”

Officials in Louisiana and Mississippi are warning that the river could bring a surge of water unseen since the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. Missouri’s legal bid to block the breach was rejected by federal courts including the U.S. Supreme Court, which on Sunday refused to intervene.

Missouri officials said the incoming water would crush the region’s economy and environment by possibly covering the land under sand and silt and rendering it useless.

Bob Byrne, 59, farms 550 acres below the Missouri levee and called news about the pending break “devastating.”

“It’s a sickening feeling,” he said. “They’re talking about not getting the water off until late July or early August. That knocks out a whole season.”

- AP

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