Coast Guard, Army Corps of Engineers assist residents in Midwest flood zone

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Coast Guard Reservist Lt. Ash Thorne wades out into a water-covered driveway that his Disaster Area Response Team had crossed to rescue a couple trapped in their home by floodwater. Thorne is supervising two teams of Coast Guard Reservists from St. Louis-based Sector Upper Mississippi River as they assist in flood response in rain-soaked communities throughout Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Isaac Pacheco.
Coast Guard Reservist Lt. j.g. Ash Thorne wades out into a water-covered driveway that his disaster area response team had crossed to rescue a couple trapped in their home by floodwater. Thorne is supervising two teams of Coast Guard Reservists from Coast Guard Sector Upper Mississippi River as they assist in flood response in rain-soaked communities throughout Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Isaac Pacheco.

Written by Petty Officer 2nd Class Bill Colclough.

With extreme high water conditions and heavy rains threatening to flood the town of Cairo, Ill., and adding pressure to the entire Mississippi River system, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers triggered the activation of the Bird’s Point-New Madrid Floodway Operations Plan last week for the first time since 1937. Last night, the USACE made the decision to open nearly 11,000 feet of levees along the Ohio River to provide relief to the floodwall protecting tens of thousands living at the intersection of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.

A catastrophic flood and evacuation in 1927 led to the establishment of the New Madrid Floodway, which reduces flood stages and prevents the projected flood from exceeding the design elevation on the Mississippi River at and above Cairo, Ill., and along the east bank levee opposite the floodway. The Great Flood of 1937 along the Ohio and Mississippi River valleys provided the first significant test of the Mississippi River and Tributaries Project. U. S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Casey J. Ranel.
A catastrophic flood and evacuation in 1927 led to the establishment of the Bird’s Point-New Madrid Floodway. The first time the floodway was activated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was in 1937. U. S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Casey J. Ranel.

For nearly a week, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Coast Guard Sectors Lower Mississippi River and Ohio Valley and the National Guard have deployed vessels, aircraft and crews to impacted flood regions. With swift dispatch, the Coast Guard, USACE and a collection of state and local agencies have surged to remove citizens from imminent danger.

“With more rain expected, Coast Guard teams are ready to help residents in the impacted communities of Missouri, Kentucky, Illinois and Tennessee,” said Cmdr. Claudia Gelzer, commanding officer of Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Paducah.

Lt. j.g. Ash Thorne, a member of a Coast Guard Disaster Area Response Team, assesses high water conditions surrounding a resident's home located near a levee, April 30, 2011. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Bill Colclough.
Lt. j.g. Ash Thorne, a member of a disaster area response team, assesses high water conditions surrounding a resident's home located near a levee. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Bill Colclough.

Several Coast Guard units, known as DARTs – disaster area response teams – have been operating in the region with six-member crews assigned to each of three 16-foot john boats. Outfitted with rescue and communications equipment and supplies, the DARTs compliment reconnaissance patrols by truck in flood-prone neighborhoods to ensure the safety of local homeowners.

In addition to the DARTs, Coast Guard Sectors New York and New Orleans forward deployed personnel, including Maritime Safety and Security Teams New York and New Orleans to support flood response operations nearly a week ago. Coast Guard and local agencies have rescued nine people from their homes so far. DARTs and local fire rescue team rescued six in Morehouse, Mo., and a DART rescued three elderly women from their flooded house in Smithland, Ky., following the voluntary evacuation of the town’s 352 residents.

While the threat to the town of Cairo remains high, equally high is the taut watch stood by all, literally, at the water’s edge. The Coast Guard crews and their state and local counterparts are ready and “in the zone” to keep people safe.

For the latest on flood response operations visit the Bird’s Point New Madrid Facebook page.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers vessels and crews prepare to conduct flood response operations along the banks of the Mississippi River, May 1, 2011. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Bill Colclough.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers vessels and crews prepare to conduct flood response operations along the banks of the Mississippi River. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Bill Colclough.

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