Corps postpones third Birds Point blast

By Gus Bode

Donald Tolivick, a resident of Olive Branch, Ill., waits for rescue Friday on the second floor of the Horseshoe Lake Motel. The Birds Point levee was blasted for the third time yesterday evening to relieve water levels, and the blast is expected to divert water 35 miles away from Cairo and Olive Branch. – Photo provided by Steve Matzker

Additional rain Wednesday, and water that has travelled from northern parts of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, has the water level at Birds Point levee back to near 61 feet.


More aluminized slurry is needed to blast the Birds Point levee, located in southeast Missouri’s Mississippi County, to release more water pressure, said Jim Pogue, spokesperson for the Army Corps of Engineers. The corps blasted holes at 10 p.m. Monday and noon Tuesday in the levee, allowing water from the two rivers to flood the New Madrid Floodway. The flooding has displaced one-third of Mississippi County’s residents.

The corps called in more explosives to break open a hole in the levee to help control water levels upstream on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, Pogue said.

A third blast was scheduled to take place at 9 p.m. Wednesday but was postponed due to logistical issues, according to the Army Corps of Engineers website. No revised blast time has been listed.

The blast was expected to divert water 35 miles away from Cairo, located between the swelling Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, before it flowed south to New Madrid, Mo., also located along the Mississippi River.

Col. Vernie Reichling, commander of the Memphis Corps district, said workers were on duty in 24- to 36-hour shifts Monday, pumping liquid explosives from barges into pipes inside the top of the levee.

Workers battled driving rains and 50 mph winds Monday on the river to move into position for the second blast about 40 miles away at the southern end of the floodway, Reichling said.

Anderson said some pipes were already flooded when the first barge arrived, and engineers had to wait for a second barge with equipment to pump the water out.


The third hole will be blasted from the southern end of the levee, Anderson said. The corps will use a different explosive agent, which they expect to be more effective, from a company in Marion, he said.

Carlin Bennett, commissioner of Mississippi County Mo., said the corps has destroyed 136,000 acres of Missouri farmland with the blasts, and they are expecting more with the continued blasts.

Contrary to Reichling’s report that water levels decreased by 4 feet, Bennett said the water levels have only dropped 1.2 feet.

“When we executed the operation, we went through more of the slurry mix than we expected to,” Anderson said. “This is the first time this has been attempted with this system.”

Maj. Gen. Michael Walsh said he didn’t expect the water levels to rise back to the level they were at Monday.

Water released from the Ohio River dam and Cairo rain forecasts for the next five days pose problems, Walsh said.

The New Madrid Floodway, created after the Great Flood of 1927,  is one of four floodways developed by the corps to prevent flood damage. The land it covers is a mix of public and private property.

Most of the land has an easement in place which allows the corps to flood  it in emergency situations, Anderson said.

However, the agreement hasn’t been acted upon since 1937, he said.