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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Blasted Levee Floods Homes

Ruben Bennett lost his home and his country store when the Army Corps of Engineers blasted three holes in levees in May to allow the swollen Mississippi River to surge into the floodway where he lives.

Cinder blocks supporting the store, which he opened in 1956, were damaged by raging water. "Naturally, it ruined everything that I had in there," he says. He stayed for a while with daughters in nearby East Prairie, but he couldn't take city life and now lives in a trailer on his property.

He won't rebuild, says Bennett, who turns 89 next week. It would be too expensive and take "probably more time than I've got left."

Five months after the intentional flood, physical, financial and emotional scars remain here. Most of the 100 or so homes in the 130,000-acre floodway were ruined and sit unoccupied. The Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute estimated farmers' losses at $42.6 million even after crop insurance and disaster payments they received.

Flooding caused by the levee breach was part of damage from heavy rain and melting snow along the Mississippi River and its tributaries this spring and summer. The National Weather Service estimated damage at $2 billion-$4 billion. The Upper Midwest, New England and Northeast also endured flooding this year.

People here question whether it was really necessary to blow the levees and wonder why their homes and livelihoods were sacrificed for larger river communities, including Cairo, Ill., population 3,000.

The Army Corps is the target of anger and frustration, in part because the broken sections of levee are being rebuilt, for now, to 51 feet instead of the original height of 62.5 feet. If the river rises next spring, people say, they will be flooded again.

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