U.S. Army Corps Blasts Mississippi Levee to Divert Flooding

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers blasted a Mississippi River levee to divert water onto more than 200 square miles of Missouri farmland to prevent flooding that threatened to destroy the nearby city of Cairo, Illinois.

Engineers detonated a section of the levee to create a gap as wide as 11,000 feet (3,353 meters), Jim Pogue, a spokesman, said by telephone from the site. Water spilled onto 130,000 acres of farmland that includes about 100 evacuated homes, easing the flood risk for 2,800 residents of Cairo, located at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.

“We executed the plan and it performed as expected,” Col. Vernie Reichling, the commander of the Corps’ Memphis District, said in a release. “We are now moving to the next steps, which are opening the two outflow crevasses at the southern end of the floodway.”

Heavy rain has swelled river levels to their highest ever along parts of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, according to government data. The Army Corps detonated a breach at the Birds Point levee at around 10 p.m. last night near Cape Girardeau in southeast Missouri. A second blast slated for early today was delayed because of unsafe weather conditions, said Steve Rochette, a spokesman. Crews are preparing for the second controlled breech of the levee, though no time has been set, Rochette said.

Damage Estimates

The U.S. estimates that breaching the levee will cause $314 million in damage within the floodway, compared with the prospect of more than $1.7 billion in damage across swaths of Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky if water tops the levees elsewhere on the system or the barriers burst in uncontrolled flooding.

Missouri attempt to prevent the Army Corps plan failed after Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito denied the state’s request on May 1.

River levels at Cairo fell to 60.51 feet at 8 a.m. compared with 61.72 feet at the time of denotation, data from the National Weather Service shows. River levels are expected to fall to 59.4 feet on May 7, still above the 40-foot flood stage, the agency said.

River levels downstream at New Madrid, Missouri, rose to 46.54 feet, approaching the record level of 48 feet and above the 34-foot flood stage, agency data show.

-- Editors: Steve Stroth, Millie Munshi

To contact the reporters on this story: Jeff Wilson in Chicago at jwilson29@bloomberg.net; Phoebe Sedgman in Wellington at psedgman2@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steve Stroth at sstroth@bloomberg.net.

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