WYATT, Mo. – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers exploded a large section of a Mississippi River levee Monday in a desperate attempt to protect an Illinois town from rising floodwaters.
The corps said the break in the Birds Point levee would help tiny Cairo, Ill., by diverting up to 4 feet of water off the river. Just before Monday night’s explosions, river levels at Cairo were at historic highs and creating pressure on the floodwall protecting the town.
For the Missouri side, the blasts were likely unleashing a muddy torrent into empty farm fields and around evacuated homes in Mississippi County.
Brief but bright orange flashes could be seen above the river as the explosions went off just after 10 p.m. The blasts lasted only about two seconds. Darkness kept reporters, who were more than a half mile off the river, from seeing how fast the water was moving into the farmland.
Engineers carried out the blast after spending hours pumping liquid explosives into the levee. More explosions were planned for overnight and midday today, though most of the damage was expected to be done by the first blast.
But questions remain about whether breaking open the levee would provide the relief needed, and how much water the blast would divert from the Mississippi River as more rain was forecast to fall on the region today. The seemingly endless rain has overwhelmed rivers and strained levees, including the one protecting Cairo, at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.