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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Poplar Bluff Flood Gets Deeper More Rain Hits Missouri


Flood pours through Poplar Bluff

BY Stephen Deere
tim o'neil
April 27, 2011
VIDEO: Poplar Bluff Missouri Black River Levee Breach Flooding April 26, 2011 - DAY TWO

VIDEO: Poplar Bluff Missouri Black River Levee Breach Flooding April 25, 2011 - DAY ONE


POPLAR BLUFF, MO. • Francis Cole looked through her screen door at a flooded rice field across the street and briefly considered fleeing to higher ground.
For the moment, she determined to stay in her home of 25 years on Fair Street in southern part of this city — despite a forecast that called for more rain. "This is all I got," Cole, 63, said. "I'll protect it the best I can."
By noon Tuesday, the Black River had topped a levee in 30 different places. Roughly 1,000 homes had already been evacuated in Poplar Bluff. Some of Cole's neighbors' homes were flooded.
Others opted for the safety of the Black River Coliseum in downtown Poplar Bluff, which had become a sea of cots. The Red Cross shelter there housed roughly 300 people Monday night, and more were expected Tuesday.
Chris Pigg, who was staying at the shelter with his wife and daughter, left his home Monday. Now, after the levee failure, he wasn't sure if home still existed. "I'm just glad my family is safe," he said.
Similar scenes played out across southeastern Missouri, where officials grappled with near-record river levels. Seventy-five miles east of Poplar Bluff, at Birds Point, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was considering flooding 132,000 acres to relieve pressure from the rising Mississippi and Ohio rivers. Several hundred residents of Mississippi County had been evacuated from farmland homes. The corps said it would delay its decision until Wednesday.
That hasn't been done since 1937 — blowing up the levee at Bird's Point, just below the confluence of the two rivers at Cairo, Ill., and flooding the 34-mile path of the New Madrid Floodway. That concept was developed in 1928, a year after a massive flood along the lower Mississippi.
The main trouble comes from the Ohio, which is expected to crest Friday or Saturday a foot above its record at Cairo. Heavy rains that pounded southern Missouri for the past week also spread across the Ohio valley to east of Louisville, Ky.
Meanwhile, Mississippi County officials want people to stay out of the floodway.
"It's a very frustrating situation," said Janice McCameron, of the county sheriff's office in Charleston, Mo. "It's still wise for people to evacuate. Just because the corps won't blow the levee doesn't mean there won't be flooding."
The 1937 flood is the record for that area. The corps considered using the floodway again in 2005, but didn't. The floodway is as wide as 14 miles before it rejoins the river east of New Madrid, Mo. Levees farther inland protect the rest of Mississippi County.
Late Tuesday, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster asked the U.S. District Court in Cape Girardeau, Mo., to prevent the corps from using the floodway.
In Cairo, officials evacuated residents of nursing homes and closed the U.S. Highway 51 bridge over the Ohio because of flooding on the Kentucky side.
In Stoddard and Scott counties, northwest of Mississippi County, two levees holding back swollen drainage channels broke on Tuesday, flooding about 30 homes near Bell City and Perkins.
In the St. Louis area, the Meramec and Big rivers were expected to crest below major flood stages today and Thursday, then fall. The Mississippi at St. Louis is to rise no more than three feet above flood stage. The region appeared to face no major flooding threat from rainfall late Tuesday.
For some Poplar Bluff residents, the flooding was becoming too familiar.
In 2008, flooding damaged or destroyed hundreds of homes in Poplar Bluff, raising doubts about whether the levee was capable of protecting the town during heavy rain. A federal inspection gave the levee a failing grade, and the private district that maintains it has been unable to make repairs.

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