Illinois reopens Olive Branch highway

Friday, May 6, 2011
Darren Bigham watches floodwaters being pumped out from his sisters house along Illinois Route 3 in Olive Branch Thursday, May 5, 2011. Floodwaters have receded and Illinois Route 3 is again open for travel. (Laura Simon)

OLIVE BRANCH, Ill. -- As waters on Highway 3 at Olive Branch began to recede Wednesday evening, residents were eager to get back in their homes and businesses, knowing long days of cleanup were ahead of them.

The Illinois Department of Transportation opened the road Thursday morning, allowing families to return home if they could get to their property.

With the help of some family and friends, Clyde Quesenberry was using a backhoe to clean up corn stalks that were left washed up in his yard.

"It's never been this high," Quesenberry said, referring to the water that started to overtop the road Monday.

Ken Newton, owner of Foodtown, a grocery store across the street, was doing some cleanup of his own. Mud, water, and other debris were still on the floor of the store, although employees and volunteers were helping to vacuum up the mess. Newton thought he'd be able to open the store by Sunday, although he cringed at having to replace insulation along the store's walls. Water, he pointed out, destroyed the insulation up to about two feet from the floor.

In Cairo, law enforcement from other Illinois counties were called in to help locals secure the city. Officials were monitoring traffic at the intersection of Highway 37 and only letting in emergency personnel, news media and residents who had decided to stay after the mandatory evacuation was ordered.

"There's people that are mad, but it's better to be safe than sorry," Alexander County Sheriff Tim Brown said.

Brown said Mayor Tyrone Coleman would have to make the decision on when to let residents back in. Likely his decision wouldn't be based just on river levels but also on the condition of the levee and whether the city's infrastructure is safe. On Wednesday, the embankment along the railroad in northern Cairo had begun to slide, causing officials to worry about a mudslide. Railroad workers were on site Thursday trying to remedy the issue.

At 8 p.m. Thursday, the Ohio River had dropped to 59.6 feet, down from a record 61.72 feet that was measured just before the Birds Point-New Madrid levee was breached Monday night. The Mississippi River at Thebes, Ill., measured at 41.9 feet Thursday night.


Pertinent address:

Olive Branch, IL

Cairo, IL

Map of pertinent addresses

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