Nixon to flood victims: 'We stand ready to assist'

Tuesday, May 3, 2011 ~ Updated 8:12 PM
Maj. Gen. Michael Walsh, right, speaks at a news conference with Gov. Jay Nixon Tuesday, May 3, 2011 in Sikeston, Mo. (Fred Lynch)

SIKESTON, Mo. -- Gov. Jay Nixon and top state officials visited a rain-soaked Southeast Missouri Tuesday, pledging to use every resource at his disposal to offer aid to a region that is suffering through one of the worst floods in Missouri history.

But he also offered a word of caution: "Floods last a long time and the damage lasts a long time afterward."

Nixon also met briefly with Maj. Gen. Michael Walsh, a top official with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the man who on Monday activated the Birds Point-New Madrid Floodway in an effort to diminish floodwaters in communities in Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky.

Walsh told Nixon that the waters that were released Monday night have made their way about three-quarters of the way down the 200-square-mile floodway, which is largely in Mississippi County. The waters are headed 35-40 miles toward New Madrid, where a second breach took place Tuesday afternoon to allow floodwaters back into the Mississippi River.

The original plan called for detonating the outflow breach near New Madrid overnight and a third blast for a second outflow section by midmorning. But the second detonation occurred just after 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, and corps crews were about eight hours behind schedule because of weather-related issues.

During the round-table discussion, held in Sikeston's municipal courtroom, Sikeston Department of Public Safety director Drew Juden told the governor that 20-25 pumping stations had been stationed throughout Southeast Missouri to fight back floodwaters. The Missouri National Guard, which has 750 soldiers deployed to the area, have set up two areas to prepare sandbags to assist communities.

About 25 swift-water boats stood at the ready, Juden said, in case of a water rescue.

Nixon asked Juden about the status of the levee at Commerce, Mo. Rumors were rampant Tuesday that the levee was compromised. But Juden told the governor that was not the case.

"The levee is holding," Juden said. "There are no sand boils. We're just like everybody else -- hoping and praying. If that levee breaks, it would send water from here to Helena, Ark."

At the discussion, Walsh, who heads the corps' Mississippi River Commission, said the floodway has operated as designed and the levee was withstanding water pressures. The delay overnight Monday came with "blinding rain," Walsh said, and 50 mph winds. After blowing the inflow fuse plugs Monday night -- creating an 11,000-foot opening for the floodway -- they had to stand down because of the weather after getting only two of the six fuse plugs at the second breach area charged with the blasting agent. But after the weather subsided, they did blow the outflow fuse. Walsh suggested that the third detonation would take place sometime Tuesday afternoon or evening, though he offered no specifics.

When asked about when the water might recede from the floodway, Walsh said it was not likely to happen before late summer or early fall.

Nixon, meantime, said the state has been declared a disaster area since April 22. He also promised that, "we stand ready to assist. What Mother Nature started, we will finish."

smoyers@semissourian.com

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Pertinent address:

Sikeston, Mo.

Map of pertinent addresses

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