Plan to blow up levee ignites debate

Ill. town's bid to reduce flood damage sparks farm residents' outrage

CAIRO, Ill. (UPI) | April 28, 2011

"If our levee is topped, we'll be like the 9th Ward of New Orleans"

—James Wilson, Cairo

An emergency plan to blow two holes in a Mississippi River levee to save Cairo, Ill., from flooding has ignited debate among area residents and politicians.

The longtime contingency plan calls for dynamiting a levee on the Mississippi just below its confluence with the Ohio River at Cairo to allow floodwater to wash across 132,000 acres of sparsely settled bottom land in Mississippi County, Mo., the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Wednesday.

The plan is pitting a farming community of about 200 residents in Mississippi County, which has been ordered to evacuate, against 3,000 residents farther north in Cairo, the newspaper said.

The dynamite option has been part of the Army Corps of Engineers contingency plan since 1928 but has been used just once, in 1937, when record floods hit Cairo.

In Cairo, leaders are urging the corps to blow the levee -- the sooner the better.

"If our levee is topped, we'll be like the 9th Ward of New Orleans," said Cairo spokesman James Wilson, referring to the flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina.

But in East Prairie, Mo., residents in a meeting with corps officials complained about being sacrificial pawns.

"If you blow the levee, we will have nothing," a farmer said.

The Ohio is forecast to crest Sunday at 60.5 feet, a foot above the 1937 record at Cairo, the Post-Dispatch reported.

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