Mississippi drops a foot within hours of levee detonation

CHARLESTON, Missouri Tue May 3, 2011 11:47am EDT

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CHARLESTON, Missouri (Reuters) - The Mississippi River at Cairo, Illinois, had dropped about one foot by Tuesday morning, eight hours after the government blew open a levee to relieve flooding in Illinois and Kentucky, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesman said.

The explosion at 10 p.m. on Monday was expected to flood about 130,000 acres of Missouri farmland and relieve Cairo and other towns threatened with massive flooding where the Mississippi and Ohio rivers meet.

"The plan performed as expected," Jim Pogue, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesman, said in a telephone interview.

Pogue said he observed three to four feet of water Tuesday morning in the area where the levee was destroyed.

The river gage at Cairo stood at 61.72 feet Monday night before the corps detonated the levee to allow the Mississippi River to cope with the rising waters of the Ohio River. Both rivers have been rising as a result of days of rain and the melt and runoff of heavy winter snowstorms.

The gage had dropped to 61.29 feet an hour after the levee was detonated and continued to drop another half foot by 6 a.m. Tuesday, Pogue said.

Carlin Bennett, a commissioner in the rural Missouri county that will bear the brunt of the flooding, said it was a little early to make the call, but was afraid the operation would not drop the river the three to four feet the government wants.

"It's looking like all of our worst fears here," said Bennett, who has 80 acres himself that are being flooded. "Our land got flooded and they are not getting the flooding relief they expected."

Bennett plans to survey the damage later on Tuesday.

The government blew a two mile hole in a 56-mile levee that holds back the Mississippi to relieve pressure and expects later on Tuesday to blow two smaller holes in the same levee downstream to allow the water to flow back into the river.

Missouri had tried unsuccessfully to get several courts, including the Supreme Court, to block the moves.

(Reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Jerry Norton)

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