Communities continue to battle flood conditions in Mo., Ill. | St. Louis Public Radio

Communities continue to battle flood conditions in Mo., Ill.

Apr 26, 2011

Updated 1:51 p.m. April 28:

Via the Associated Press:

The Black River is receding at Poplar Bluff, Mo., and some 1,000 evacuees are now allowed to go home.

Officials in the southeast Missouri community of 17,000 residents on Thursday lifted a mandatory evacuation order for a large section of town, where river water has been pouring over the top of the levee.

Residents in the impacted area can return home whenever they choose.

Many will find a mess left behind by the murky water. Officials don't yet know how many homes were damaged in Poplar Bluff and in a rural area of Butler County also protected by the levee.

The National Weather Service said Thursday that after a crest of 21.4 feet on Tuesday, the Black River at Poplar Bluff was down to 19.1 feet.

Updated 11:14 a.m. April 27:

Via the Associated Press:

The Army Corps of Engineers says it will wait until this weekend to decide whether to intentionally break a southeastern Missouri levee along the Mississippi River.

The Corps has said it may have to blow holes in the Birds Point levee to ease rising waters near the Illinois town of Cairo which sits near the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.

Missouri has sued (see 12:58 update) to block the effort because it would swamp farmland. A hearing is scheduled for Thursday.

But Corps spokesman Bob Anderson tells The Associated Press that even if a judge gives the go-ahead, the agency will wait until it gets a better forecast of the river crests to see if the breach is necessary. That decision isn't likely to come until at least this weekend.

Updated 5:06 p.m. April 26:

Via the Associated Press:

Illinois Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon is defending the idea of intentionally breaching a Missouri levee to reduce flooding in Cairo.

Missouri officials object to the plan, saying it would endanger 130,000 acres of prime farmland.

But Simon told The Associated Press on Tuesday that farmers will be compensated for their losses and will be able to use the land next year. On the other hand, flooding could devastate the poor town of Cairo.

She noted an Illinois levee was intentionally breached during 1993 flooding.

Simon also says the Army Corps of Engineers would not break the Birds Point levee until water had already topped the levee.

The Corps of Engineers says it will put off a decision until at least Wednesday.

Updated 4:20 p.m. April 26:

U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill says she has concerns about the intentional breaching of the levee at Birds Point (via a press release):

“While emergency responders and volunteers work to save lives and protect property as best they can, the Army Corps of Engineers are working to find a solution to alleviate the stress from our levees.  I have grave concerns about the plan to intentionally breach Bird’s Point Levee that is being considered. In the effort to prevent more damage, we may do additional significant harm to the agricultural economy of the region that will last well after the flood waters recede.”

The release says McCaskill has already communicated her concerns with the Army Corps of Engineers' leadership.

Updated 4:00 p.m. April 26:

Via the Associated Press:

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has put off making a final decision on a controversial plan to intentionally breach a levee protecting valuable farmland from the rising Mississippi River.

The agency made the announcement Tuesday in Memphis following a teleconference and decided to put off a formal decision on the plan until at least Wednesday, when it was scheduled to meet again on the issue.

The corps wants to intentionally break the levee at Birds Point in Mississippi County in order to relieve upstream pressure on a different levee protecting the Illinois town of Cairo.

Though the corps tabled its plans, it nonetheless announced it was still moving equipment needed to execute the break into position along the levee.

Missouri government leaders, notably Attorney General Chris Koster (see our 12:58 p.m. update below) have objected to the plan, saying it would danger 130,000 acres of prime farmland.

Updated 3:06 p.m. April 26:

Via the Associated Press:

Forecasted flooding in southern Illinois has prompted Gov. Pat Quinn to call up the National Guard.

Quinn's initial Tuesday activation includes up to 125 guardsmen, who will deploy to Marion to help with emergency planning. The governor's office says more troops could be called upon if they're needed.

"They know how to get the job done and make people feel safe," Quinn said. "Because that's the number one issue for all of us when a flood or any kind of weather disaster comes: public safety. So we really have to be on our toes the next couple of days and hopefully we'll get through it."

The Ohio and Mississippi rivers rose Tuesday and local officials say evacuations could be necessary.

Reporting from Illinois Public Radio's Luke Runyon also used in this update.

Updated 1:37 p.m. April 26:

Via the Associated Press:

The damaged levee protecting the southern Missouri town of Poplar Bluff failed a federal inspection after a 2008 flood.

Tony Hill of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told The Associated Press on Tuesday the levee protecting Poplar Bluff from the rain-swollen Black River received an "unacceptable" rating in 2008.

That's the lowest of three rankings the Corps gives to levees.

Hill said the private district that operates the levee was unable to make repairs. Because the problems weren't addressed, the levee no longer qualifies for a federal program that provides money for such repairs.

Updated 12:58 p.m. April 26:

Via the Associated Press & reporting from Maria Altman:

Attorney General Chris Koster and a state agency are suing to stop the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from destroying a levee in the Bootheel.

Koster says in a news release that he and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday asking a judge to stop the corps from intentionally breaching the levee at Birds Point in Mississippi County.

The corps believes breaking the levee will take a significant amount of water out of the river and relieve upstream pressure on the levee protecting the Illinois town of Cairo.

The decision on whether to detonate the levee is expected Tuesday afternoon.

Koster says the levee's destruction would cause flooding of up to 130,000 acres of land. Gov. Jay Nixon is also opposed to the corps' plans.

"There are no good options at this point, I understand that," Koster said. "But before we create a manmade detonation that is going flood 130,000 acres of Missouri farmland, we want to make sure the Corps can legitimize in federal court its decision.”

Updated 10:27 a.m. April 26:

Via the Associated Press:

A police officer says a levee protecting a southeast Missouri town from major flooding has breached and that authorities are planning to evacuate residents from more homes in the area.

Poplar Bluff police Officer Daron House said Tuesday that water is pouring through a crack in the levee on a road southeast of Poplar Bluff and that crews are looking into a report of a possible second breach.

He says water from the breach is pouring into a drainage ditch but that officials are concerned it could flood a wider area.

He says officials are planning to evacuate more homes. About 1,000 homes were evacuated Monday and some have been flooded by water from the Black River that has poured over the levee in about 30 locations.

Original Story:

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has activated the National Guard to help communities threatened by flooding.

Nixon said Monday that some of the Guard members will aid local emergency responders in the Poplar Bluff area who are dealing with the potential failure of levees.

Hundreds of residents in southern Poplar Bluff were evacuated today after police received word this morning that water was pouring over the Black River Levee near Butler County Road 607.

The rushing water has damaged the structural integrity of the levee, leaving it at risk for rupture, according to David Sutton with the Poplar Bluff Police Department.

“As the water pours over the top of the levee it eats away at the levee,” Sutton said. “There’s a 100 to 150 foot-wide pass that’s being carved into the levee, so the longer the water comes over the top the wider that gets and the more water comes.”

Police have evacuated 1,000 people so far today, but as water continues to pour over the top of the levee they expect more evacuations.

A shelter has been set up at the Black River Coliseum with help from the Red Cross. Sutton said 150 adults have already registered at the shelter.

Police are urging people in the area to pack their medications and belongings in preparation for a rushed evacuation.

The National Weather Service reported 8 inches of rain since Wednesday accumulated in Poplar Bluff, and another 5 to 9 inches are expected to fall by this Wednesday.

Nixon said most of the flood concerns are focused on southern and southeastern Missouri.

The governor said the Guard units are being deployed immediately. But it was not initially clear how many Guard members are being deployed. Guard members also will be available to help other communities.

Floodwaters are also threatening the resort town of Branson, and several towns along the Mississippi River south of St. Louis could experience flooding.  Mike O’Connell is with the Department of Public Safety.

“Some areas of southern Missouri have received as much as 7, 8, and even in some localized areas, 10 inches of rain…this has saturated the ground," O'Connell said.

The city of Fenton, Mo. announced this afternoon that:

River Road in Fenton at the intersection of Yarnell Road and Larkin-Williams Road will be closed late tonight, April 25 or early Tuesday morning, April 26.

The Missouri Department of Transportation's interactive map also has information on road closings around the state.