Today's Coming Crisis Movie

Monday, May 2, 2011

Plan to Breach Levee in Missouri Advances as a Storm Brews

As a huge storm settled over southeastern Missouri on Sunday, the Army Corps of Engineers began the overnight task of filling an 11,000-foot system of buried pipes with an explosive material to blow a two-mile-long gap in the Birds Point levee here. The breach would inundate about 130,000 acres of farmland to relieve pressure on the overburdened system of levees to the north.

"We've been told to go, but we've got two more cells of lightning that need to move through here before we start to pump," Jim Lloyd, the corps' operations team leader, said as he walked through the wind and rain late Sunday afternoon. "We're going to work through the night to get this loaded."

Mr. Lloyd, who had just left a briefing, emphasized that although Maj. Gen. Michael J. Walsh, who commands the Mississippi Valley Division of the corps, had ordered that the explosives be loaded, he had yet to give the final word to blast the levee.

"He'll still have to make the decision," Mr. Lloyd said, adding that although the explosives were extremely stable and would not be primed, the lightning was "going to complicate our lives something fierce."

Earlier in the day, Missouri officials made a last-ditch effort to spare the levee when the state's attorney general turned to the United States Supreme Court, asking it to overturn a day-old order from the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit that had allowed the corps to proceed with the operation. The state was later denied.

But even as the legal fight played out, General Walsh was directing the two barges stationed at a nearby staging area to prepare to move into the final position from which crews could begin injecting the levees with 265 tons of explosives to blast the earthen structure.

"It will be a heaving of soil -- the levee will be excavated very rapidly," said Nick Boone, a mechanical engineer who leads the corps' blasting team. "On this upper end, it's going to look like a waterfall. It's an instant removal, and that's the whole point -- instant relief of the entire system." (read more)