'Heart-wrenching' feeling as flooding destroys homes, land and a way of life
Farmer Bob Byrne looks out on the flooding that damaged his land -- and $40,000 worth of wheat crop.
May 5th, 2011
10:46 AM ET

'Heart-wrenching' feeling as flooding destroys homes, land and a way of life

In Mississippi County, Missouri, where the Ohio and Mississippi rivers meet, water hasn't been this high since 1937.

It was that flood that prompted the Flood Control Act of 1937 and the construction of an interstate system of levees. Parts of those levees were designed to open up a flood way in extreme flooding situations. That opening would relieve pressure on the system during major flood events and actually lower flood stages.

With the Mississippi and Ohio rivers surpassing the record levels of 1937 this spring in Southeast Missouri, the Army Corps of Engineers has used explosives to do just that. The intentional opening of the levee is meant to save some river towns like Cairo, Illinois, but has inundated fertile farmland in the flood plain of Mississippi County, Missouri, with flood water.

Bob Byrne owns 550 acres of land inside the flood plain that has been in his family for more than 100 years.

"I was standing on top of the levee back here when it went and it's just kind of heart-wrenching, just a sinking feeling," Byrne said.

"We've seen the Ohio River rampage, water right up to the top of the levee. We've seen this one (Mississippi) on the rampage, but never the two together," he said.

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He plants wheat, corn and soy beans on the property. Byrne said his year is over unless the water gets off his land quickly.

"If we can get a soy bean crop planted by middle of June, first of July, we'll make crop," he said.

He already planted wheat and prepared the land for corn.

"So far, we've probably lost $40,000 on our wheat crop," Byrne said.

Norbert Rolwing, 93, farmed land in the flood plain during the record-setting flood in 1937.

"This is one of the things that happens once in a great while and you just have to take it on the chin," Rowling said.

"There's no winners here," Michael Reuter of the Nature Conservancy said.

"Our heart goes out to those people, but the challenge that we're forced to make here is how to balance the management of these rivers for people and nature, and there's communities up and down stream that had to be factored into this decision, as well," Reuter said.

Still, that doesn't make Byrne feel any better about his property.

"If the water doesn't get off and the land doesn't dry up, I'm going to have to do something else," he said.

A group of Missouri farmers have filed a class action lawsuit against the federal government for the decision to blow the levee. Though the Army Corps has flowage easements attached to the farmer's property, the class action suit reportedly is asking for compensation for taking their land.

"Way back in the Depression days when anybody would do anything to get a penny, that's when they got all of the easements on this kind of stuff," Byrne said.

Though he is not part of the legal action, Byrne said he will be studying the class action suit and will most likely join.

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Filed under: Missouri • Weather
soundoff (133 Responses)
  1. Buccakenji

    If global warming caused this flooding, as Gore-arific would have us believe, what caused the flooding in 1937. That was before global warming was an false issue.

    May 5, 2011 at 6:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • alex

      wow Buccakenji you should teach Environmental Science at University

      May 5, 2011 at 7:02 pm | Report abuse |
  2. alex

    Drill Baby Drill!

    May 5, 2011 at 7:00 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Barleyman

    Typical response.. file a lawsuit.

    May 5, 2011 at 7:04 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Kate Beem

    Please don't blame the farmers for living where they do. Put yourselves in their position. And just say a prayer.

    Kate Beem

    May 5, 2011 at 7:31 pm | Report abuse |
  5. conRep12

    Is anyone concerned at all that it was the Missouri farmers who had their homes and land flooded? Who decided that Cairo shouldn't have to bear the brunt of the flood waters and maybe relocate their town? Houses, other buildings, and roads can be rebuilt; fertile farmland is hard to relocate, and a field fallow for a year can be a great loss to a farmer and those his crops feed.

    To those who feel no pity for the residents of flood plains, what do you eat, and where is it raised? The levees were meant to protect the farmers and the towns, and it seemed like they were doing a good job by the farmers of Mississippi County. Remember the levees were blown on purpose to flood one kind of valuable property instead of another. Are the residents of Cairo any less to blame for building their town in a flood plain than the farmers who plant their crops where the soil's fertile?

    To those incredulous as to why a farmer might not have a "rainy day fund", farming is a high risk high capital business with a razor thin profit margin. A farmer's income is the farm's income, and when a farm is in need a farmer is in need. Farmers don't often have the resources to set something aside. What they make past what they need usually ends up being earmarked for the next year's growing and harvesting seasons.

    May 6, 2011 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Anna

    My heart and prayers go out to all those farmers. I hope they get their land back by June!

    May 7, 2011 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
  7. burned

    My ex worked for Fema as a flood inspector in the field for over 20 years. He sys Cairo refuses to buy flood insurance, and everyone downriver pays for it.

    May 10, 2011 at 7:43 pm | Report abuse |
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