Cairo mayor issues order for mandatory evacuation

Sunday, May 1, 2011
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)

CAIRO, Ill. -- The mayor of Cairo ordered everyone in the city to leave by midnight on Saturday afternoon, just hours after meeting with the Army Corps of Engineers commander of area flood-control operations.

Maj. Gen. Michael Walsh met with Army Corps of Engineers and city officials to observe a large sand boil caused by the extremely high Mississippi and Ohio rivers. Walsh, the head of the Mississippi River Commission charged with making a decision on breaching the Birds Point levee to relieve pressure at Cairo and other points, described the boil as the largest he had ever seen.

He said that while the boil is stable, it should continue to be monitored.

"There are certainly some concerns in what that's going to do and how this could act as a mechanism that we need to keep good track on," he said.

The sand boil was discovered around 7 p.m. Tuesday in Cairo behind the Napa Auto Parts building. City officials and residents worked about 12 hours through the night to stabilize it.

The Cairo area commander for the Corps of Engineers, Tom Morgan, escorted Walsh through the area of the boil.

"This is the biggest sand boil we have ever laid eyes on," Morgan said.

Walsh said that Cairo floodwaters are at historic levels with gauges to reach over 60 feet in a matter of days.

"That's not just putting pressure here in Cairo, but the entire system is being put under pressure," Walsh said. "This is going to be the biggest amount of stress that these levees have been put under since we started the construction in 1928."

Cairo Mayor Judson Childs addressed the issue of resident evacuations at the meeting early Saturday afternoon. He said at the time the city was under a strongly urged voluntary evacuation. By 4 p.m., Childs had issued to order to clear the city due to the high river levels, the large boil and the forecast for rain starting Saturday night.

Childs urged an orderly process and asked residents to let police know they were leaving.

"Please do not panic and exit the city in a timely manner by midnight," Childs said in a news release.

Residents may be housed and fed by the American Red Cross at Shawnee College. Meridian High School, Anna Heights Baptist Church and Choate Mental Health Center will also serve as shelters. The Southern Baptist Church Kitchen will provide food for residents at locations other than Shawnee.

rrolwing@semissourian.com

388-3654

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