May 4, 2011 / 9:51 PM / 8 years ago

U.S. plans to blow third hole in Missouri levee

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The government plans to blow up a third section of a Mississippi River levee on Wednesday night to allow flood water back into the river, as river levels upstream continue to drop.

A truck drives through floodwaters in an area intentionally flooded by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers in Charleston, Missouri, May 3, 2011. REUTERS/James Kelleher

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers blew up a two-mile section of the Birds Point levee Monday night, flooding about 130,000 acres of Missouri farmland, to ease flooding in towns in Illinois and Kentucky. A second, smaller section was detonated Tuesday afternoon to allow water back into the river.

Corps spokesman Jim Pogue said the Corps is waiting for additional explosive materials to reach the site of the third area. The earliest the site could be breached is 8 or 9 p.m. Wednesday night. No further breaches of the Birds Point type are planned, he said.

“The flood fight will not stop here, the entire system is experiencing flooding and we will continue our fight downstream,” said Major Gen. Michael J. Walsh, president of the Mississippi River Commission, in a statement.

The Corps also may operate two floodways in Louisiana, but those have permanently installed gate structures and do not require explosives to open them.

The National Weather Service said the river gauge at Cairo, Illinois, where the Mississippi and Ohio rivers meet, showed the water level had dropped almost two feet since Monday night when the Corps blew a hole in the protective embankment.

The level was at 59.76 feet at 3 p.m. local time Wednesday, down from 61.72 feet Monday evening.

Both rivers have been rising to historic levels as a result of days of rain and the melt and runoff of heavy winter snowstorms.

Controversy surrounding the extraordinary demolition continues, with Missouri farmers affected by it filing suit Tuesday.

Water continues to rise to record levels in the southeast Missouri town of Caruthersville, with water at 46.5 feet, according to John Campbell, operations chief for the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency. The previous record is 46 feet in 1937.

The town is protected by an earthen levee, then a “sea wall” made of concrete. Sandbagging is underway west of this to build a secondary wall, according to Campbell. “There is concern there is going to be a record flood there,” Campbell said. The community has about 6,700 residents.

Flooding from swollen rivers continues to cause evacuations and property damage in Midwestern and southern states, including Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Indiana, Arkansas and Tennessee.

Evacuations have taken place in parts of Memphis and Millington in Shelby County, Tennessee as well as in three other counties along the Mississippi River and another one on the Cumberland River.

One of the concerns in floods is the impact on drinking and wastewater treatment. The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency said Wednesday that so far the local drinking water systems are operational.

Additional reporting by Tim Ghianni in Nashville and Miriam Moynihan in St. Louis; Writing by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Greg McCune

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