URGENT APNewsBreak: Flooding stops at SE Mo. levee breach

By DAVID A. LIEB

Associated Press

ST. LOUIS (AP) — For the first time in more than five weeks, the Mississippi River has dropped low enough to stop flowing through a gap in a blown-up levee in southeast Missouri.

In a significant turning point in a long-lasting flood, the still swollen but falling river stopped rushing through a hole in the Birds Point levee Thursday morning, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told The Associated Press. The river had been continuously flooding the area since the corps blew a hole in the earthen levee May 2 to relieve flooding pressure on nearby Cairo, Ill.

An estimated 130,000 acres were flooded in Missouri because of the intentional levee breach. Water remains on some of that land but has been flowing back into the Mississippi River further south along the New Madrid Floodway.

Although flooding now is occurring or forecast for much of the Missouri River, which feeds into the Mississippi River near St. Louis, the corps said that is not expected to cause renewed flooding in the area of the Birds Point levee nor anywhere else along the Mississippi River.

“Unless we get a very significant rainfall, we should have a steady drop in the lower Mississippi River — even though we’re still going to get a lot of flow out of the Missouri River,” said Bob Anderson, a spokesman for the Mississippi Valley Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Weather forecasters estimate it would take a fairly significant rainfall of 5 to 7 inches over a wide area of the lower Missouri, middle Mississippi or middle-to-lower Ohio river valleys to turn the Mississippi River back above flood stage near Cairo, according to a memo from the corps’ water control chief to the division commander that was provided to the AP.

But as long as the gap in the levee remains, the threat of flooding also will remain higher than usual.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said earlier this week that his administration is prepared to commit the resources necessary to construct the temporary levee at Birds Point as soon as the corps approves the plan. He sent corps division Maj. Gen. Michael Walsh a letter urging him to expedite that construction plan. The general has asked the commander of the corps’ Memphis, Tenn., district, which oversees that part of the river, to develop an action plan for stabilizing the Birds Point levee and its associated New Madrid Floodway, Anderson said.

The head of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources also wrote to Walsh last week asking the corps to analyze the potential effect on the Mississippi River from the rising waters on the Missouri River.

“We have particular interest in the potential impacts that higher Missouri River flows may have on the New Madrid Floodway as Missourians in that region of the state make plans to put their lives back together,” DNR director Sara Parker Pauley said in the letter, which was provided Thursday to the AP under a Sunshine Law request.

Barring additional rains, Anderson said the flow of water from the Missouri River will comprise only one-tenth of the water flow in the Mississippi River south of Cairo.

“I don’t want to give them false hope, but it doesn’t look quite as dire as it could have been,” for Missouri residents along the Mississippi River, Anderson said.

Corps officials who oversee the Mississippi River in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi said residents there should have no concern, because the floodwaters from the Missouri River will be dispersed among the wider Mississippi River.

“It will have no effect on us at all, we’re just too far south,” said Kavanaugh Breazeale, a spokesman for the corps’ Vicksburg, Miss., district office.

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