MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Flood worries that prompted the U.S. government to blast open a Missouri levee to ease pressure on some towns are rippling down the Mississippi River, leading to more evacuations and unease as the Army Corps of Engineers weighs whether to purposely inundate more land with water.
People in eight states along the swollen Ohio and Mississippi rivers and their tributaries were filling sandbags and packing up to leave home as high water works its way downstream in a slow-motion disaster that could take weeks to unfold.
The breach of southeastern Missouri's Birds Point levee was heralded by some Illinois towns along the Ohio River as a needed relief from record flooding, and the man who ordered that action says he may do the same with other Mississippi River spillways as flood prospects mount.
Maj. Gen. Michael Walsh said he understood the farmers' frustration at the corps' decision to sacrifice the levee Monday and send a wall of water over 130,000 acres of farmland. A lawsuit was filed to try to save the land, but was unsuccessful.
"This was one of the relief valves for the system," Walsh said. "We were forced to use that valve."
That calculation to draw down the Mississippi and Ohio rivers in the nation's midsection appeared to do its job. On Tuesday night, the Ohio at Metropolis, Ill., measured about the same level it had been at the time of the blast. Without that breach, the river was forecast to have steadily crept up to a crest of more than 58 feet.
In Cairo, the Ohio had dropped to 60 feet, about a foot and a half lower than it was at the time of the breach. Cairo, a town of about 2,800 residents, is at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. Downstream of Cairo — in southeast Missouri, Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana — concerns grew as the Mississippi River continues to rise.
After the levee was blasted, Joe Harrison noticed the effects in Kentucky.
Harrison, who lives near Hickman, Ky., said floodwater from the Mississippi turned his house into an island, high enough to remain dry but surrounded by water. He's been using a boat to get to his car, securely parked on dry ground farther down the highway that runs by his home.
Harrison estimated the water around his home dropped about 12 to 18 inches, enough so that he can once again see the mailbox at the end of his driveway.
"I've never seen it this bad," the 78-year-old said.
About 3,800 people have been evacuated from three western Kentucky cities as officials project rivers to crest Friday, and another bout of storms is expected for the region over the weekend.