Corps of Engineers ups monitoring of levees as rivers rise

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, concerned about thunderstorms forecast for today and Wednesday, has upgraded its flood-fighting posture as the Mississippi River level continues to rise at Cairo, Ill.

The Corps Memphis District has begun more intensive monitoring of levees, floodwalls and pumping stations. It also dispatched nine field workers to Cape Girardeau, eight in Caruthersville, Mo., and eight in Dyersburg, Tenn.

The river has already crested in Cape Girardeau. Although the crest at Cairo has been lowered from 52 feet to 50 feet, the corps doesn't expect a crest there until next Tuesday.

The corps doesn't usually initiate a Phase II response until Cairo reaches 52 feet, but, according to a news release, the corps "remains concerned" about forecast rain and wants to "maintain a proactive posture."

Lester Goodin, a member of the district levee board near Cairo, last week worried that this flood could make big news in Cairo, where the Mississippi River meets the Ohio River. Though the crests have been lowered, the Cape Girardeau resident and Charleston farm owner is still keeping a close eye on the weather.

"Eight days out is a long time to predict a crest," he said. "In defense of the National Weather Service and the corps, predicting a crest is so complex. There are so many variables."

The Mississippi River at Cape Girardeau and Cairo rose quickly -- as much as 5 feet in 24 hours last week. That coupled with the rapid rise of the Ohio River is probably the reason the corps initiated the Phase II response, Goodin said.

The National Weather Service in Paducah, Ky., has called for thunderstorms through Wednesday night for a region that includes Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky and Indiana.

Repeated weather systems have doused much of the Midwest, especially in Illinois and Indiana, where towns are experiencing major river flooding and near-record crests. Some parts of Indiana and Ohio have seen four times the normal precipitation over the last month.

Several roads and a ferry have been closed down in western Kentucky.

Dan Spaeth, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Paducah, said Southern Illinois and western Indiana -- the areas that have had the worst flooding so far -- will likely get hit with another half-inch of rain this morning.

The heavy downpours will likely come Wednesday afternoon and evening. Spaeth expects an inch of rain to batter the entire region as a squall line passes through.

After that system moves on, cold, dry air -- with lows in the single digits -- will set in and relieve the flooding for a while.

Phase II activities begin when the river gauge at Cairo approaches approximately 52 feet or when the Cape Girardeau gauge reaches 43 feet.

The river stage at Cairo was 48 feet Sunday night. The Mississippi River at Cape Girardeau already crested at 34.2 feet Sunday night.


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