Maj. Gen. Michael Walsh, president of the Mississippi River Commission, speaks to residents, area officials and media after checking over a large sand boil that has appeared in Cairo, Ill. Saturday, April 30, 2011, before a press conference in Sikeston. (Laura Simon) SIKESTON, Mo. -- With the rains returning and the flood gauge at Cairo, Ill., expected to match all-time highs by Monday, Maj. Gen. Michael Walsh gave the order Saturday to move barges carrying 250 tons of explosives to Wickliffe, Ky., putting them in position to blow the Birds Point levee in Mississippi County. But Walsh said at a news conference Saturday afternoon he has yet to decide whether he will activate the plan that would inundate 132,000 acres of farmland in Mississippi and New Madrid counties.
"No decision has been made," said Walsh, president of the Mississippi River Commission and commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Mississippi Valley Division. "It's not time-phased, it's condition-phased."
And moving the barges is not even an indicator that he's more strongly considering blowing the levee, which would relieve pressure from the swollen Mississippi River by diverting its waters to 132,000 acres of farmland in Mississippi and New Madrid counties.
It was the next step to prepare for that contingency, which was precipitated by the Cairo gauge of 59.19 feet, which is just below the all-time high of 59.5 feet, a level that is expected at Cairo by Monday or Tuesday, Walsh said. Three to four inches of rain was also expected to be dumped on an already soaked Southeast Missouri within the next two to three days, forecasters said.
Several other decisions would have to be made in the process before he would give the order to activate the floodway, he said. The next step would be to position the barges along the Birds Point levee, followed by an order to charge the pipes and then the final order to activate the plan to create holes in levee, making inflow and outflow spots that Walsh said would lower river waters at Cairo by 3 to 4 feet.