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Illinois mayor prepares residents to evacuate due to flood threat

By the CNN Wire Staff
A boy in Cairo, Illinois, looks over a levee wall holding back floodwaters from the Ohio River.
A boy in Cairo, Illinois, looks over a levee wall holding back floodwaters from the Ohio River.
  • NEW: 100 residents evacuated in Missouri floodway area
  • An Illinois mayor asks some residents to be ready to evacuate in town of Cairo
  • A federal judge ruled the Army Corps of Engineers may burst a Mississippi River levee
  • The plan would flood more than 130,000 evacuated acres in southeastern Missouri

(CNN) -- An Illinois mayor urged some residents on Friday to make plans to evacuate the town as the flood-engorged Mississippi River reached record levels.

Cairo Mayor Judson Childs asked "senior citizens, people with medical conditions or special needs along with families with children that live in single-story homes" to be ready leave the flood-threatened town, according to a written statement.

Earlier on Friday, a federal judge ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers may intentionally burst a Mississippi River levee in an effort to prevent the flooding of the town.

Judge Stephen N. Limbaugh Jr. in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, ruled that a 1928 law permitted the breach of the levee to ease pressure on the Mississippi River.

The Corps' plan would flood more than 130,000 evacuated acres -- much of it farmland -- in southeastern Missouri, said Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster.

Map: Cairo prepares to evacuate
  • Floods
  • Illinois
  • Missouri

Koster argues the corps is trying to protect the town of Cairo, located downstream.

James Pogue, chief spokesman in the Corps' Memphis office, said the Birds Point-New Madrid Floodway is a "safety valve" in the current crisis.

The floodway would help direct the flow of the excess waters.

"This allows us to do what nature will do anyway, (but) in a controlled system," he said.

Limbaugh said the Corps may implement the plan "only as absolutely essential to provide the authorized protection to all citizens."

He added that the Corps' plan does not suggest "arbitrary or capricious decision-making."

Birds Point is about 140 miles south of St. Louis. The floodway is about 35 miles from north to south and is four to 12 miles wide.

Maj. Gen. Michael Walsh ordered barges to be moved north on the river to prepare for the levee breach, Pogue said. "The decision was to move forward with the plan."

About 100 people were ordered from their homes in Birds Point-New Madrid due to utilities being cut off in the area, Pogue said.

The Corps, which has authority over flood control, will make a final decision before the barges and teams get to work at Birds Point, he said.

About 100 families live in the floodway, which has not seen such use since 1937.