US Army Corps of Engineers blows up Missouri levee

The flooding from the levee will affect Mississippi and New Madrid counties.

After heavy flooding in the region, the United States Army Corps of Engineers blew up a levee in southeastern Missouri on Monday night to spare an Illinois town from the floodwaters.

Immense pressure from the Ohio and Mississippi rivers has been steadily increasing due to flooding. Record-high water levels and gauges pushed the Army Corps into emergency action, to the dismay of local residents in Mississippi County.

The floodway area, where the levee waters flowed into, is 205 square miles, according to an Army Corps news release. It spreads across Mississippi and New Madrid counties in southeastern Missouri, between Cairo, Ill. and New Madrid.

Army Corps Engineer Major General Michael Walsh said in a news release that making the decision of where to blow up the levee is grave because either way, property and livelihood are affected.

“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,”

Walsh said the state of Missouri has done a superb job of helping residents deal with the flooding.

“I have to activate this floodway to help capture a significant percentage of the flow,” Walsh said. “I don’t have to like it, but we must use everything we have in our possession in the system to prevent a more catastrophic event.”

Several southeastern Missouri cities were affected by the levee break, including East Prairie and Charleston.

“We're an agricultural community and when land is taken out of production and money can't be made from it, there's a trickle-up effect,” said Robert Hearnes, Director of Public Safety in Charleston. “The farmers won't buy feed or equipment, and then they can't employ others who need jobs, and eventually, it will affect the whole economy.”

Hearnes said the town was opposed to the idea of the levee destruction because of the potential devastating effects.

“We're not protestors or anything like that,” Hearnes said. “Once it came to a point where they decided to do this, we got involved so that if something bad happened, we would be better prepared to handle the situation.”

Hearnes said towns and cities south of Charleston were hit even worse by the levee destruction and flooding.

Steve Rochette, Army Corps spokesman for the floodway project, said the river level right before the levee’s destruction was at 61.72 feet and the projected level within days was 63 feet. He said the U.S. Geological Survey put 38 checkpoints in the floodway area to monitor its progress.

Rochette said after the levee was blown up, water gauge levels decreased several feet in the area and around Illinois and Kentucky, and will continue to do so.

Hearnes said the main problem to address now is the second levee that is supporting water released by the first levee. He said that if it stays intact, there should be no problems.

“I just hate to see our area like this," Hearnes said. "We don't know what it will be like later on.”

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