Brian Seay

CAIRO, Ill. (IRN) – A federal judge will decide today whether the Army Corps of Engineers should blow up a levee to ease flooding in Cairo, Illinois. The state of Missouri filed the lawsuit to prevent the levee explosion, which Missouri official say would flood thousands of acres of farmland.

“Governor Nixon, back off. I mean, don’t choose farmland over lives,” said State Rep. Brandon Phelps (D-Harrisburg). “He may be a great guy, but in my eyes right now, he’s not showing it.” “He wants to say it’s the backs of the farmers of Missouri,” said Phelps of Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon. “He’s talking about literally wiping out a community (Cairo). And that’s what’ll happen if we don’t explode that levee.”

The southern Illinois town of Cairo is in Phelps’ district. It sits a little upstream from the Birds Point levee in Missouri’s Mississippi County.
Phelps says a voluntary evacuation of the town has seen about 500 of Cairo’s 2,800 residents leave. A mandatory evacuation has not been implemented and Phelps says the decision to implement one rests on whether the levee will be destroyed.

“Here’s the problem with Cairo too, and I know it very well,” said Phelps. “(It’s) very depressed. A lot of people don’t have anywhere to go. With the gas prices where they are, it’s hard…to afford to travel.”

The Army Corps of Engineers has the explosives ready, and Cairo is preparing for what’s expected to be record flooding with sandbags and other efforts. “We’ve got more rain coming in southern Illinois,” said Phelps. “I was on the ground on Monday and it’s getting worse by the day, by the hour.”

As for the court decision, Phelps says he’s not very confident the town of Cairo will be on the winning side. “If I was a betting man, I would say that he’s probably not going to rule in Illinois’ favor,” said Phelps. “Governor Nixon said today that the Army Corps of Engineers should not do this on the backs of farmers in Missouri. They don’t even own the land, and supposedly, if this happens and they blow up the levee…that farmland, they would get reimbursed for that.”

Copyright IRN

Comments (15)
  1. Scott Haynes says:

    I am biased. My family roots were established in Cairo and my grandmother, aunt, and great uncle still live there. Cairo is a historic town and deserves to survive. The farmland will still be there and can be used again after the waters recede. Cairo, on the other hand will become a ghost town if the MO farmers have their selfish ways.

  2. Alexandra Anderson says:

    Why is this even a debate? Farmland over lives? My Great Aunt still lives in Cairo. My grandparents are buried there. This town deserves to be saved. It is a historic treasure with living residents. How could anyone be selfish enough too destroy Cairo?

  3. Bob L says:

    The main point here is that you have a governor who is supporting a handful of farmers who knowingly built their homes and farms on a designated flood plain designed to prevent Cairo from flooding. If Cairo was in MO this wouldn’t be an issue.

  4. grammar police says:

    “Cairo Fights For It is Life”? Oh, boy… it would be easier to take this seriously if anyone in the process knew how to use an apostrophe. It’s 2nd grade grammar, folks!

    1. Lynn Armstrong says:

      Thank you. I know te situation in Cairo is about life and death, but as a retired English teacher, I cringe when I see headlines like this. Unfortunately, most eighth graders (whom I taught) don’t “get” this. If you learned this usage rule when you were in second grade, more power to you! Most people never learn it. Thankfully, most people aren’t writing headlines. Those who do should be grammar-perfect, but very few are. Arrgggghhh… God bless the peple of Cairo. I lived there for twelve years, love the town, and am heartsick about the crisis.

  5. Claire says:

    As an ex-farm owner I know the land will always be there after the flood. SAVE Cairo. Farmers on leased flood plains should have no legal right to impede the Army Corp. Even the Indus river embankments have flood gates that empty onto fields to prevent flooding cities. What if debris from a flooded Cairo damages shipping? What are the costs of flooding Cairo – human & commerce…? GET THIS STORY ON CNN, MSNBC & WEATHER Channel.

    1. Emily says:

      I strongly agree! And I was raised on a farm – my dad, both my grandfathers, etc, etc are/were all farmers, so I am sensitive to their concerns. But given that this floodway is a designed control structure, bounded on both sides by levees to divert floodwaters in emergency situations (like the one in which we currently find ourselves), I hardly see what the hesitation is for. Cairo may not be what it once was, but the people and homes there are worth saving. And as you point out, it is not even just about that. Other cities down river will be impacted if this plan is not enacted. And, according to the Army Corps, the consequences of not opening the floodway could halt river navigation for months. River navigation is extremely important for the transportation of Midwestern farm commodities, among other things. You have to take into account the total impact and once that story is told, it becomes clear that the floodway must be used as it was designed to be used. It is sad to see the 130,000 acres of farmground out of commission for the year and possibly negatively impacted by scouring or siltation and the approximately 200 people who live in the floodway displaced, but when you compare it to the extreme impacts that will be seen elsewhere, the right choice becomes fairly clear.

  6. Leah A. says:

    I dont understand the world today. I am heartsick. I live in Maryland so I can truly say that I am looking at this from an outsiders point of view. Do what is good and right. Blow the levee. Gov. Nixon, you will meet your maker someday and there will be a reckoning. Please search yourself and save the people of this town. Character is doing the right thing even when no one else is looking. I will pray for all of you. God IS in control.

  7. Karen Easton says:

    why are you quibbling about an apostrophe when the issue is lives? I too hate bad grammer and wrong puncuation, but get real folks, who cares about that when they are seriously thinking of letting people and homes that are loved, be destroyed to save land? Stop this nonsense! Write to your politicians, who seem to hold the fate of many lives, and make them see reason!

  8. Arthetta says:

    I am also from Cairo. The question of the levee has been known since my mother was a child. My great great aunt Augusta would walk to Cario from Bird’s Point to stay with us during the flooding. This has been the way of life for all those who choose to live in the flood relief area. They should be knowledgeable of the risks. To choose lives, most old and poor , historic towns and a National cemetery over crops should not even be a point of discussion. What does this country value?

  9. steve says:

    no one person, in this case, some federal judge, should make the final decision
    to blow or not to blow the levee. the decision to blow or not to blow the levee
    made by the u.s. army corps of engineers is made by many, many people with
    experience and common sense knowledge about this situation. the judge
    probably has never seen the mississippi river and may not know the damage
    it can do if something is not done soon.

  10. Meeks, Etha says:

    My family also came from the Cairo area. My mother told me that the authorities flooded Mound City, Il. to save Cairo in 1937. At that time Cairo was the commercial district of the area. My grandparents lost their home and all their worldly possessions. Although I grew up on a farm in Pulaski County and I have great empathy for farmers I still pray that the city of Cairo escapes this ordeal.

    p.s. I hope this statment is grammatically correct, If not feel free to edit it.

  11. Daniyahu says:

    I grew up in Cairo, its a peaceful little town and i think to choose a piece of land over human lives would be arrogant, vicious, inhumane, Godless, and ridiculous. We as taxpayers pay these politicians to make the right decisions and the right decision would be to blow the levee. Be Strong the people of CAIRO!

  12. Claire says:

    In response to Steve. The Federal Judge is deciding what LAW applies. There are contracts and historical legal processes involved. I believe the Court/Judge is based in St. Louis or C. Girardeau so I assume he has seen the Rivers but that is not relevant. What is relevant is the LAW & the legal rights/obligations bestowed upon the parties. The Judges decision is being appealed. Whatever the final decision is binding unless appealed as this is a Nation of Laws which we are obligated to follow. Farmers in the flood plain took risks building there. Sadly that risk has come to pass. I hope some of these farmers have been prudent and in remembering their potential risk saved some money for a rainy day.

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