Ill., Mo. Battle as Flooding Washes Over Midwest

Monday, 02 May 2011 05:38 PM

By Martin Gould

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Residents in Illinois and Missouri are battling each other over plans to blast a hole in a levy as record flooding engulfs the Midwest. The Army Corps of Engineers says it is ready to breach the Birds Point levee to save the town of Cairo, Ill. But if it does, it will flood thousands of acres of fertile farmland in Missouri.

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito weighed in on the side of the Illinois town on Sunday, refusing to grant an emergency injunction to stop the Corps from pumping explosives into the dam, Bloomberg reports.

After touring the area on Sunday with Maj. Gen. Michael Walsh, the corps officer who ultimately will decide the levee's fate, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said: "This is a dramatic, once or twice in a lifetime kind of occurrence.”

The Democratic governor had predicted that 135,000 acres and “a couple of towns” would be washed out if the dam were blown up. The corps says only around 100 homes are in the flood’s projected path.

Heavy rain fell in the area on Sunday night within hours of Alito’s decision, which he made without comment.

In submissions to Alito, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said: “The water will rush over farmland, destroying homes and outbuildings, taking agricultural chemicals, petroleum tanks, diesel fuel and propane tanks stored and in use with it,”

But Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan predicted that, if pressure isn’t relieved with explosives, the levees will fail anyway. “Conditions are deteriorating rapidly in Cairo,” she said.

Outgoing Cairo mayor Judson Childs has ordered all but a handful of the city’s 2,800 residents to evacuate. He is convinced the dam has to be blasted. “We can’t take land over lives,” he said.

Record rainfall is pushing the emergency, engorging both the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, which converge near Cairo, the southernmost city in Illinois. The Ohio is 20 feet above flood level, the highest in 74 years, and is expected to crest on Wednesday.

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