The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was considering the extraordinary step of intentionally breaching the Birds Point levee in southeast Missouri, just downriver of the confluence, in a bid to reduce the amount of water moving down the Mississippi. The move would soak 130,000 acres of farmland, and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon objected to the idea. A decision was expected Tuesday.
This is part of a plan put in place after the levees were built following the disastrous 1927 Mississippi River Flood. They did it in '37 to help save Cairo and it worked.
[For the history go here at IllinoisHistory.com]
Then Cairo was a city of 14,000, now it's down to 2,800. In 1937, the river was getting close to overtopping the levee in Cairo. So far that's not the case yet. The latest prediction is a crest next Tuesday at 61 feet, three feet below the top of the levee, and 18 inches above the '37 record.
Right now the biggest levee worry is along the Black River at Poplar Bluff, Missouri, where more than 10 inches of rain has fallen over a wide area since Friday night, according to the radar estimates.
At Cairo, the city council met last night to discuss evacuations. So far, eight families have notified police they are leaving. River levels were 56.6 feet last hour at 10 a.m., more than seven feet below the levee top. In 1937, the evacuations of women and children began on Jan. 25, a week before the Feb. 3rd crest when waters reached 58 feet, just two feet shy of the then 60-foot levees.
The biggest problem if the water doesn't overflow the levee itself like it is at Poplar Bluff, becomes sand boils.
The major problem by Feb. 2, 1937, became the dreaded "'sand boils' bursting up in the heart of Cairo Tuesday forenoon, gave warning of deeply undermined flood barriers. Emergency squads rushed to the danger spots, dumping hundreds of sandbags on the miniature "geysers" boiling through the then strata of protective surface over the city's foundation of sand."
Back then, a crew of 4,500 men manned the levees, adding sandbags, quickly adjusting to whatever was the latest danger. Approximately 1,500 were townsmen, 500 WPA workers, some CCC enrollees and the by one account (I know the math doesn't add up), 4,000 federal and state troops.