When the Birds Point Levee Broke, We ALL Lost.

Dreams are washed away with the levee break. Birds Point Floodway photo by KFVS TV

My heart is breaking for all of my friends in Southeast Missouri today.  The Army Corps of Engineers decided last night to blast the Birds Point Levee in a two mile stretch to save the Illinois town of Cairo.  In saving the town of approximately 2,800 people, over 130,000 acres of farmland was destroyed.  Many have said blowing the levee at Birds Point was the “logical” decision because homes and lives would be destroyed if Cairo, or any town,  flooded.  Without a doubt there would have been devastation if Cairo flooded.  Lives had to be saved, that is completely understood.

I hate the thought of anyone losing their home or business.  No one wants to see another human lose their life or home or buisness, especially me.  What breaks my heart is that 130,000 acres of productive farmland is now shattered.  We can rebuild homes, businesses, and buildings, we do it all of the time after natural disasters or devastation.  However, we CAN NOT rebuild this lost farmland as easily, Lowe’s and Home Depot do not sell DIRT by the acre.  When the levee was destroyed last night, not only did my friends in Southeast Missouri lose their farms and everything their families had worked for generations to build, but we ALL lost a valuable resource that we can not replace.   

As our population continues to grow so does the demand for food.  That farmland produced a lot of food for our families and we were depending on it for generations to come.

This loss will be felt way beyond this year’s harvest or next year’s planting.  Will the Army Corps of Engineers rebuild this levee?  I sure hope so because if not, generations to come will feel this loss with higher food prices.  This is a drop in the bucket though compared to what the farm families who owned that land have lost. Generations of family members have cared for that land, putting in many long hours and praying for a productive crop.  Many sleepless nights were had wondering if a crop would be produced and if it would be enough to make the bank payment for the farm.  I can only imagine their pain and devastation now that the land is ruined and I wish I could make it go away.  Never again will their lives be the same.  We can’t find more dirt to put on their fields, we can’t send volunteers to help plant those fields when the water is gone.  It’s not that simple, some of that land will not be farmed again.

To my friends and fellow farmers in Southeast Missouri, I hope you can find a little comfort in knowing there are many prayers being said for you.  May God be with you and bless your families during the difficult days that lie ahead.   May your loss be a true benefit to others and I hope you find comfort in knowing lives were probably saved due to your loss.

About Chris Chinn

My husband, Kevin, and I are 5th generation farmers. We live on our family hog farm in Missouri with our two children. Our dream is that our children will have the opportunity be the 6th generation of farmers in our family.
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23 Responses to When the Birds Point Levee Broke, We ALL Lost.

  1. I think this is criminal what the gov and courts have done. The town of Cairo should have been moved along time ago like other flood prone towns along the river have been. The long-term consequences are never taken into account by the gov. We have to let everyone know what a “quick fix” like this does to people’s lives for generations to come.

    • Chris Chinn says:

      I know, this quick fix has a huge cost. Many people feel the Corps of Engineers will never fix the levee and instead create a new 130,000 acre wetland area. My friend who lives near the levee said it felt like an earthquake when they blew the levee.

      • Elizabeth Branum says:

        I live pretty close to the spillway and there was no earthquake. What they heard and felt were surface shockwaves traveling through the air. It is highly unlikely that those shockwaves reached through 7 miles of earth to the fault line.

      • Chris Chinn says:

        Correct, no one said it was an earthquake they said it felt like an earthquake.

      • Elizabeth Branum says:

        What I meant by this statement was that it wasn’t going to trigger an earthquake. They are using dynamite… not bombs. It isn’t going to exert enough force to trigger an earthquake. Experts even say that the earth has shifted so much that the New Madrid fault line isn’t a even a threat anymore.

        The Corps are educated in this field and I am sure that they had everyone’s best interest at heart and they are making the best decision for this situation.

      • Chris Chinn says:

        Let’s pray they are right! 🙂 This was a no win situation no matter how you looked at it. I just hate for anyone to have the loss.

    • “We do not want to see SE Missouri made the dumping ground to protect Cairo, as much as we love Cairo.” MO Rep. Dewey Short in 1927
      Max Armstrong sent us this quote. I think it says it all. Like I said the town should have been moved long ago.

  2. Wayne says:

    Thanks for an update on this.

  3. Greg says:

    Chris, I have to put something out there on the other side of this issue. While everyone is talking about Cairo, I think that you are focused on the trees and not looking at the forest. Not only did this action affect Cairo, it affect many other towns up and down the river.

    You can not dismiss this action that was part of the Corps original plan, hence the term “spillway”. And while I can understand a season’s loss of crops (I grew up in a farm family) you can’t have it both ways. The delta area has enjoyed the protections this levee has produced for years while having the cumulative affect of increase water levels along these major rivers.

    The reason that these croplands enjoy rich fertility is due to periodic flooding that occurred over the years. Having this flood is not going to destroy the land forever. The insistence of keeping up a man made levee at the cost to other areas is too short sighted.

    Again, I am sorry for any loss that you have suffered. May it be tempered by the fact that your loss saved me. The three feet that the crest at Paducah was lowered after this action saved my home, and many of my friends homes. While none of us are completely done with this, through the grace of God we shall all overcome.


    • Chris Chinn says:

      I hope you are right, I hope the farmland will someday be productive again and that a season’s worth of crops will be the only loss. In conversations with some of my friends who are losing their farmland, they feel the land will not be farmed again. I don’t know if that is true or not but there is concern over the value of the land. I’m glad your home was spared due to the loss, at least there was a ray of sunsine in this!

  4. Mace Thornton says:

    Floods are just an awesome reminder of the challenges that face farmers and ranchers year in and year out. I am glad you brought this situation to the forefront. It is unfortunate that anyone should feel the damage of this flood. I am hopeful that there will be some public support of some form to help soften the blow of having the levee blasted. It sounds as though the decision was made in the name of the greatest public good, but it only benefited folks on one side of the river. Those experiencing the resulting devastation should not be forgotten.

  5. Deena says:

    Hey Chris, thanks for the blog. This has been hard on everyone. I know how the people from Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee feel. Even Missouri. This has not been easy for anyone. I think all the farmers or at least most that are in the spillway have had good attitudes about this. (It use to be called spillway, now its called the floodway, anyway!!). This has devastated our county. We will rise above this and we will come out on top. I dont like to see people that are not educated about the issue sling mud back and forth on the internet. All that does is cause panic and chaos. Who is right in this situation, I dont know. I am just upset on the fact they didnt let it go over naturally and how people just think of it as “just farmland”. Some people (I am using that word loosely, not all people) do not see how it impacts our economy. This land represented 1/3 of our counties tax dollars. It is 11 miles wide, 34 miles long. If farmers (and I am also sick of hearing people say “those rich farmers”.) do not get a crop in, it will affect them from using seed, chemicals, fertilizer, fuel, scout services, marketing services, grain elevators, equipment purchases, etc. If the chemicals, fertilizer, fuel, scouts, etc. do not get used then their income is affected. Then if the chemicals, fertilizer, fuel, scouts, etc. do not make money, then your grocery stores, retailers, restarants, Casey’s, etc will be feel the effect. I do not have time to go through the entire trinkle down effect but its there. And it will hurt. I know this spillway was designed to release water, but it was designed back in the 30’s. Did it work this time? I am not an authority on the matter. Do I hope it works? Heck ya!!! or we are all in trouble. It’s not a simple problem and does not have a simple answer. We are going to miss that land and my heart goes out to the landowners. Many have lost their homes and occupation. Homes can be replaced but replacing their occupation is somewhat harder. Well there went the second BOMB!!!! Lets all pray it works. Love ya Chris!

  6. Chris,

    I think I have an inkling of how people there must feel. I spent more than a decade in the small town in Mississippi where the levee broke in 1927. There are very few people who are still around to remind us how it was at the time but when you go on top of the levee, you could still see history. all the trees that were dumped were long gone, but the scars were still there. And that means sandy spots in field are still management issues.

    A few years ago when the levee broke in New Orleans, people in the Delta were the first to respond because we knew we were just as vulnerable. We didn’t have time to complain but were busy responding. I think for Southeast Missouri, very few of the people there can speak up now as they are focused on dealing with the problems at hand, but you did a great job of showing how your friends there feel.

    Thanks for putting it together. I also posted on the flooding over the weekend as I drove through the Bootheel & took photos — couldn’t believe that there were sandbagging crews ON THE INTERSTATE! My post is at http://jplovescotton.com/2011/05/01/memphis-flooding-mid-south-mississippi-river/ if anyone would like to see it.

    I will keep your friends and all the others who live along the river in my thoughts & prayers. And I will continue giving thanks that my great-grandparents chose to build our homes in a place up on the bluffs, where we have a bit more protection from the force that the Mississippi can wage.


  7. daringrimm says:


    Excellent post. I do not know the nuances of flood control/levees and the like. But I think you bring up an excellent point on considering the potential loss of very badly needed farmground. By my calculations that’s potentially 25 MILLION bushels of corn that won’t be grown this year, and in the high-demand global environment we are in, that’s bushels that are needed. But the decisions have been made this time, I just hope its something that’s considered in the future.

    No matter the how’s/why’s/what happens, our thoughts and prayers should certainly be with those farm family’s who are seeing years, maybe generations of toil and effort evaporate in a moment.

  8. I too do not know all the ramifications of blowing or not blowing the levee. My first concern was that the farmland closest to levee would have large deposits of sand, greatly reducing fertility. I have also wondered what becomes of the buildings, equipment, and stored grain on the flooded farms. Did the farmers have enough notice to move equipment if needed, and if so where would it go? I feel bad lately knowing that everyday my field conditions improve up here in Indiana that just means all that water is heading to the Wabash and down to the Ohio/Mississippi just causing more problems downstream. It’s a damned if you do, damned if don’t situation. I commented on twitter today that I would like to see before and after soil test results after the flood waters recede.

    • Chris Chinn says:

      The final decision was made last night but it was discussed for weeks. I am not sure what happened to the equipment but I pray they found higher ground to move it to. I read today officials thought water would be on the land until late summer or early fall. I think the sand deposits will be a huge challenge as well. I know it was a hard choice to make on the levee, I pray it works so the benefits make the losses seem worth the struggles.

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  10. Michael says:

    What lives might have been saved? Cairo, IL was evacuated long before the final decision was made to blow the levy and flood the PRODUCERS in Missouri. This was a political decision as much as it was anything, but I won’t go into details here. Just do some comparisons between the land being destroyed vs. that supposedly “saved”. It will begin to make your stomach turn (if it isn’t already).

    • Chris Chinn says:

      Michael – My stomach already turns over this. I hate the entire situation and my heart goes out to the families dealing with their farms being flooded. It’s a horrible situation and I don’t envy anyone living through it right now.

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