Rural Missouri - June 2011 - (Page 19)

Heavy spring rains submerged most of southern Missouri in a historic year for flooding A home near New Madrid is inundated with floodwaters from the Mississippi River. Heavy spring rains raised the waterway to near-record levels at almost 20 feet above normal. 133,000 acres in the New Madrid Floodway that was intentionally flooded to alleviate pressure on levees along the nearby Mississippi River. In the first week of May, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened nder a clear blue sky in May, Roy and Ray three portions of the Birds Point levee, flooding ferPresson push off from shore for a midday tile Bootheel farmland and nearly 100 homes in an boat ride. The spring sun warms the skin effort to lessen problems downstream. of the two farmers on what seems like a The decision to blow the levee became a widely picture-perfect day to be out on the water east of discussed topic at the end of April that was resolved Charleston. when a federal judge ruled in favor of using exploRoy smirks at his brother and says, “You know, sives to blow openings in the levee. we are going down HH Highway right now.” Following the first blast on May 2, just On a normal day, you would have northeast of Charleston, millions of galthought the two had lost their minds, lons of water started flowing through the but this spring, many things are out 11,000-foot-wide opening in the levee, of place in much of Missouri’s Bootheel lowering the river’s level a few feet in a region. matter of hours. Instead of a day of enjoyment, the two Residents of Cape Girardeau, brothers were seeing their homes and Charleston Campbell and Sikeston all reported farmlands for the first time in a week since • Poplar Bluff • feeling the rumble from the blast. being evacuated due to extensive flooding. According to the U.S. Geological “We are about over our wheat crop Survey, the explosion had the same now,” Ray says to Roy as they float across effect as a magnitude 3 earthquake. their 550-acre field submerged in 3 to 4 feet of water. Two more blasts along the levee followed in the “What are we going to call this place now? Lake Miscoming days to relieve stress along the river and sissippi County?” to create an outflow passage just northeast of New Heavy spring storms dropped 25 to 30 inches of Madrid. rain across most of southeast Missouri in late April As a result, a bumper crop of winter wheat now and early May, causing almost every drainage ditch, lies submerged in the fields. Corn, soybeans, rice creek and river from Poplar Bluff to New Madrid to and cotton likely will not be planted this year — swell and burst from its banks in some of the worst maybe never again — as silt, sand and whatever flooding in nearly a century. debris from the river covers the fields. When the The Pressons also were in the middle of one levees were built in the late 1920s and early 1930s, of the more heated debates in recent history. The the intent was to create a place for water to be family’s land was just a portion of the more than by Kyle Spradley diverted in case of extensive flooding. Although the intentional blowing of the levee has always been a possibility, not since a winter flood in 1937 had the Corps taken such a drastic step. “We always knew this could happen, but I never really expected to see it in my lifetime,” says Ray, a SEMO Electric Cooperative member. “I’ve spent my whole life out here, and it gives you a sick feeling in your stomach when you look out and see 3 to 4 feet of water over where I live.” When they were forced to evacuate, Ray and Roy were both faced with the dilemma, like other Missourians, of what to take with them. Furniture, generations of heirlooms and photographs, priceless possessions and belongings all were subject to being lost in the floodwaters if not packed away during evacuations. “We were lucky to get out some stuff and put into storage,” says Roy, also a SEMO Electric member. “But I worry about the things we left behind if water is in my house.” Normally the Mississippi runs at a depth of around 30 feet through the region, but with heavy rains this spring, the mighty waterway rose to nearrecord levels. With water levels rising to 48 feet in New Madrid, some action had to be taken. When the floodway was opened, 4.11 million gallons per second — more than five times the amount of water flowing down Niagara Falls — was released from the main channel. For farmers, the coming months will be a waiting game as they see how long it takes the water to recede. (continued on page 20) Drowned U JUNE 2011 19

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - June 2011

Rural Missouri - June 2011
In the beginning
The Missouri Lyon hunt
Mail Bag
Beaver Creek Paylake & Fish Fry
Out of the Way Eats
Hearth and Home
News Briefs
In the middle of everywhere
Around Missouri
Restoring Stover

Rural Missouri - June 2011