by Kevin Allman
A federal judge in Missouri will decide a Midwestern Sophie's choice April 28 — to allow the rain-swollen Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to flood the town of Cairo, Ill. (pop. 2,800), or have the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers blow the levee and flood farmlands in neighboring Missouri, which would likely wash out an area the size of Chicago. The state of Missouri has filed a federal lawsuit to stave off that possibility:
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster says floodwaters would leave a layer of silt on farmland that could take a generation to clear and also could damage 100 homes. And Missouri's governor, Democrat Jay Nixon, has said the corps is "trying to solve the entire watershed pressure on the back of Missouri farmers and Missouri communities" and should instead explore other methods of relieving pressure on the levees.
James Wilson, a former mayor of Cairo, said if the Corps of Engineers does not blow up the levee, Cairo could see flooding along the lines of Hurricane Katrina. "There's going to be another 9th Ward if something is not done," Wilson said, referring to the section of New Orleans that flooded after levees along the Mississippi River were breached.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, one-third of Cairo residents live below the poverty line, and average family income there is less than $29,000 per year.
Regardless of the judge's ruling, officials are expected to assess the state of the rivers this weekend before coming to any final decision regarding the levees.