Rising Water Forces More Evacuations, Political Fights
POPLAR BLUFF -- Rising floodwaters Tuesday forced hundreds of people from their Poplar Bluff homes and brought Missouri's governor to town.
More heavy rainfall came after the sun went down, marking the seventh straight day of rain. By sundown, the swollen Black River had overtopped its banks and invaded neighborhoods on the south end of town. More than 1,000 residents were told to leave their homes by day's end, and the city's hotels were booked solid.
Gov. Jay Nixon, fighting the federal government on a different levee issue, came to Poplar Bluff midday to reassure displaced residents that no one would loot their abandoned homes. Nixon said if criminals did steal from homes, authorities would prosecute them. At a Red Cross shelter, nearly 300 people were generally in good spirits, but wondered when they'd be able to go home.
"It's too early in this disaster for people to know how long it's going to take," said Jeff Shawn, a Red Cross volunteer at Black River Coliseum, the main shelter in town. "I think they're just thankful to have a place to stay while they re-sort their lives."
Earlier in the day, the Missouri National Guard was at work, piling sandbags to halt the approaching flood waters and rescuing people who stayed behind in their homes until it was too late. There were about 400 Guardsmen in the area Tuesday, said Michelle Queiser, a spokeswoman.
Authorities warned residents across southeast Missouri to get out of their homes if water threatens, and not to drive through flooded roadways. Nearly 450 roads in the region are closed because water is rushing across them, the state Department of Transportation said.
About an hour east of Poplar Bluff along Highway 60 sits the Mississippi River levee at Bird's Point, Mo. There, a separate levee issue has Jefferson City politicians fighting against Washington.
The U.S. Corps of Engineers delayed a decision whether to blow up that levee to relieve pressure upriver. The delay came as Attorney General Chris Koster filed a lawsuit to prevent future action. Nixon criticized the possibility in an appearance on CNN. The two officials said the move would flood 130,000 acres of fertile Missouri farmland and displace even more people.
Water levels are expected to rise Wednesday, as forecasters predict another day of rain in the area.
KOMU has a crew in southeast Missouri and will provide updates to this developing story.