Cairo residents allowed back in as mayor lifts evacuation order

Thursday, May 12, 2011
Traffic into Cairo, Ill., was light Wednesday, May 11, 2011, after the mandatory evacuation order was lifted. (Fred Lynch)

CAIRO, Ill. -- For one Cairo woman, Mayor Tyrone Coleman's announcement Wednesday lifting a mandatory evacuation order came at an ideal time.

Cathe Wisniewski had spent more than a week living in a Carbondale, Ill., hotel and was about to check out and into an American Red Cross shelter in Ullin, Ill., when she heard the news from her ex-husband.

"It was so well-timed, the city opening up. I just ran out of money in regards to staying in a hotel," she said after carrying in a load of clothes from her car into her 10th Street home.

Her home was in the same shape as it was when she left, said Wisniewski, who left only when then-Mayor Judson Childs put in place a mandatory evacuation May 1.

"There's been no flooding in here as far as I can tell," she said.

Mayor Tyrone Coleman -- sworn into office May 2 -- knows while everyone may have not been as fortunate as Wisniewski, the city got lucky. The Ohio River got as high as 61.72 feet last week, hours before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers breached a levee in Southeast Missouri in order to reduce pressure on flood works along the Ohio and the Mississippi rivers.

He kept the evacuation order in place so long, Coleman said, to keep residents safe. Sand boils and sinkholes, associated with the massive pressure on the city's flood-control system, had been seen.

About 100 people, not including emergency personnel and law enforcement officers, stayed in Cairo while the order was in place.

Coleman decision Wednesday, he said, was based on predictions from the corps and from Illinois emergency management on what the river would do this week. Before the first blast at the Birds Point levee, the corps anticipated the Ohio River level at Cairo to drop up to four feet. At 8 p.m. Wednesday, the Ohio River was at 57.03 feet.

"By the morning, it's forecast to be in the 56-foot range. This community has experienced these levels of water around us twice a 10-year-period," Coleman said. "It's safe, but residents need to be observant to areas of the town that are still barricaded and roped off."

Other residents returning to their homes Wednesday -- and some days before -- found out they weren't as lucky. A.C. Cleaves, 77, found his basement flooded, leaving important possessions destroyed.

"Everything down there has to be thrown away," said Cleaves, who stored a variety of antiques in the basement of his home on the corner of Edgewood Park and Washington Avenue.

Cleaves left Cairo when Childs put in place a voluntary evacuation, days before anyone else left the city. The mayor, he said, told him it was safe to come back.

"I got back around 12 p.m. yesterday," Cleaves said. "I went to Perryville, to my daughter's. I didn't see any water there."

Despite law enforcement from around the state monitoring entry into Cairo, like Cleaves, 22-year-old Danyella Nelson and her 1-year-old daughter, Jahniyah Hughes, came back to their apartment Sunday before Coleman lifted the evacuation order.

Nelson added that she wasn't nervous about the conditions in the city when she left, she just wanted to be somewhere safer. Her apartment is dry and nothing was destroyed.

Coleman said some residents were back in the city earlier than others because they chose not to leave after he allowed them back for a few hours Friday to check on their homes.

"People did people things. Once they were in, we couldn't force them to leave," he said.

Coleman added that if they had been seen in public places, however, or found breaking a curfew he put in place this week, they would have been cited. From 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. no one except emergency personnel may be on the city streets, and businesses, which can open today, must close by 8 p.m. No alcohol sales will be allowed in the city until the curfew expires Tuesday.

Crime has been low, according to Coleman, and only two possible home break-ins were reported Tuesday.

Coleman said he's asking residents to respect the curfew as well as any emergency personnel. "Also everyone should avoid areas that have been marked with either barricades or red tape. They're still not safe to the public," Coleman added.

Classes will resume in the Cairo School District today, and in a news release at Cairo City Hall, district personnel urged staff to contact their building principal for adjusted schedules for all school activities.


Pertinent address:

Cairo, IL

Map of pertinent addresses

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