Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Video of the 1937 Flood at Cairo

Don't know much about this video other than it's been on YouTube for less than a year. The footage is from the 1937 Flood at Cairo. It starts with the toll house at the approach to the Mississippi bridge on the south side of the city.

For the latest on flood news check out the "flooding" category at Southern Illinois Tourism News.

Monday, April 25, 2011

How the 2011 Flood Compares with 1937 at Cairo

The National Weather Service is predicting the Ohio River will crest next Tuesday at 60 feet at Cairo, a half a foot higher than the record Flood of 1937.

[For more, check out my posts at Southern Illinois Tourism News.

I talked with Louise Ogg of Tamms this afternoon. She's a former city librarian at Cairo and local historian who remembers the 1937 flood.

"I was nine years old. We got out of school and went boating every day."

One difference she noted between then and now were the levees. Cairo's got more protection today than it did. A quick check of my Red Cross book on the '37 flood disaster gave the figures (I knew I bought that book off of eBay for a reason). In 1937, the levee offered protection only up to 60 feet. Today that protection extends to 64 feet.

Another thing she brought up was the dynamiting the levee that took place back then. In order to help save Cairo, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dynamited a levee downstream in Missouri to take some of the pressure off.

Again, from the Red Cross book, "The Ohio-Mississippi Valley Flood Disaster of 1937: Report of Relief Operations."

A Threatened Second Disaster
Simultaneous with the havoc in the Ohio Valley was the insistent threat of another major disaster in the valley of the Mississippi River below Cairo, Illinois. New levees constructed after the Mississippi Flood of 1927 were being put to a severe test for the first time.

If they failed, the fertile, low-lying cotton plantation country on both sides of the river to the Gulf of Mexico would become an inland sea. Another million persons might be forced to flee. Thousands of homes would be destroyed. The livestock loss would be staggering.

The Spillway Is Flooded
On January 25, the "fuse-plug" levees along the Missouri shore of the Mississippi River near Cairo were dynamited by U.S. Engineers to relieve the pressure on the sea wall of that city.

This action was part of a definite plan devised since 1927. Cairo stands upon a narrow and low-lying neck of land at the confluence of the Ohio and the mighty Mississippi Rivers. The city's sea wall can withstand a stage of 60 feet; more than that brings disaster.

In anticipation of what was now happening, and for the purpose of slowing the velocity and reducing the depth of flood waters in the Mississippi, the Engineers, under an act of Congress, had purchased flowage rights through a 130,000 acre strip of rich plantation land extending from Bird's Point to New Madrid, Missouri.

Across the face of this $21,000,000 spillway, they constructed a "fuse-plug" levee of low height. Around the back of it, they built a very strong and high levee to protect the adjoining countryside. Property owners, tenant farmers and share crops who continued to live in the area naturally hoped that there would never be a government warning to evacuate.

But it came several days prior to January 25.

The effect of the spreading of the water over the spillway is seen in the fact that the river at Cairo fell from 58.6 feet on the afternoon of January 25, to 57.9 feet on the morning of the 28th; and then resumed a slower rise until the crest of 59.6 feet was reached on February 3 and 4. The rate of rise decreased materially as far upstream as Paducah, Kentucky.

Louise said families of some of those squatters between the two levees turned and sued the city of Cairo in 1987 in a case that was settled out of court.