(Updates with mandatory evacuation of Cairo, Illinois)
By Christine Stebbins
CHICAGO, April 30 A U.S. government agency
moved a step closer on Saturday to blowing up a Mississippi
River levee to control flooding after a court decision cleared
the way for it to proceed.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials said they dispatched
barges to the Birds Point levee near Cairo, Illinois, carrying
a slurry mix that could be used to detonate the levee. The
barges are set to arrive at Cairo from Hickman, Kentucky, late
"That is one of the many decisions that we make before and
if we ever get to the decision (to detonate)," Major General
Michael Walsh of the Army Corps told reporters.
"After that, the next decision is to take the barges and
preposition them. The next one is to charge the pipes and the
next one is to operate (detonate)," he added.
He provided no timetable for the decisions and said the
Corps was closely watching river levels, expected to crest by
A federal appeals court said earlier on Saturday the Corps
had the right to breach the levee to prevent flooding in Cairo,
as permitted by a 1928 law.
Cairo, a historic town of 2,800 people, is at the
confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Both rivers have
been rising as a result of days of rain and the melt and runoff
of the winter's heavy snowstorms.
The state of Missouri originally sued to stop the Corps
plan, arguing that blowing up the levee would flood 130,000
acres (52,000 hectares) of Missouri farmland and do extensive
damage. The states of Illinois and Kentucky took the other
side, saying that towns in their states could be flooded if the
levee were not blown up.
A lower court ruled against Missouri on Friday, and the
state then petitioned to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
"I'm pleased that the court quickly rejected Missouri's
request. The Army Corps must have the ability to take any
action necessary to protect lives and homes in Cairo and the
surrounding communities," Illinois Attorney General Lisa
Madigan said in a statement.
The Corps said it would detonate explosives in the levee if
the river at Cairo reached 61 feet (19 metres) and was rising.
But it could potentially blow the levee even if the river does
not reach 61 feet if there is too much stress on the system.
The river, at 59.2 feet (18 metres) on Saturday afternoon,
is forecast to rise to 60.5 feet (18.4 metres) by Tuesday,
according to the National Weather Service.
Cairo Mayor Judson Childs late on Saturday ordered a
mandatory evacuation of the city as of midnight CDT (0500 GMT),
the Corps SAID.
In Missouri, some 230 residents have been evacuated and the
National Guard has set up command posts, the governor said.
(Reporting by Christine Stebbins, Editing by Greg McCune)