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Homeland Security

Engineers blow levees to protect river communities

May 7, 2011

By J.D. Leipold

SIKESTON, Mo. (Army News Service, May 6, 2011) -- The Army Corps of Engineers blew off the top few feet of three levee crevasses in the Mississippi River over the past week to keep high waters from flooding communities downriver.

Breaching the levee at the Birds Point-New Madrid floodway, where the Ohio and Mississippi rivers meet, allowed water to run onto 133,000 acres of designated floodway land. But the action protected 2.4 million acres downriver from being inundated, officials said. They said the levee crevasses were blown when the water level reached 61 feet.

"This flood fight is not over," said Maj. Gen. Michael Walsh, Mississippi River Commission president. "We have hundreds of engineers working right now in the field fighting floods. Our goal is to reduce risk to people living behind our levees."

The entire system is experiencing flooding, Walsh said, and the Corps of Engineers will work with federal, state and local organizations to reduce the risk of those living in high-water areas. Presently, the corps has crews patrolling the levees around the clock looking for problem areas and offering technical assistance and equipment to communities impacted by the high water.

"Public safety is number one. I still don't think people understand the immensity of this flood," Walsh said. "The rain event we've had the past two weeks is 600 percent above normal."

According to Corps of Engineers officials, operation of the floodway is not intended to stop all flooding, rather it's to relieve pressure on the Mississippi and tributaries so as to reduce the risk of levee failures to communities behind those levees.

With rain continuing and water levels already surpassing historic levels, there is "no way to stop all flooding, but rather to do our best to reduce the risk to life and property in the region," officials said in a released statement.

The Mississippi and Ohio Rivers have already experienced precipitation 125 to 150-percent above normal rainfall with water levels on the Ohio expected to remain above flood stage for the next several weeks.

Corps experts estimate it will take 45-60 days for water to recede out of the floodway, provided the area sees no more rainfall. After the floodway water has receded, it will take another 21-30 days for the land to dry out. The next obstacle will be removing the debris and sediment that occurred during the flooding.

On May 9, the corps is slated to open the Bonnet Carre Spillway, which lies about 28 miles north of New Orleans. The spillway is expected to be open from two to four weeks to keep the volume of Mississippi River flows from exceeding unmanageable levels.

The corps expects to break high-water records at various points along the Mississippi. The engineers are coordinating with officials from Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana in preparation of the crest moving downriver. High water levels are projected for Memphis and Vicksburg in the coming days and weeks, officials said.

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