(CAIRO, Ill.) -- The Army Corps of Engineers activated the first set of explosions at the Birds Point, Missouri levee late Monday in an effort to save Cairo, Illinois from disastrous flooding.
Overnight, with a thunderous boom and a brilliant flash against a black sky, the corps set off the charges and turned 130,000 acres of farmland into a muddy lake and lowered the Mississippi River by three to four feet.
"[The Cairo levee] continues to be under enormous and unprecedented pressure," said Maj. Gen. Michael Walsh during a news conference Monday.
The Corps' explosives experts exploded the two-mile hole in the levee sometime between 9 p.m. and midnight.
"We have executed the first phase of our operation, the first point in the flood plain project," said Col. Vernie Reichling, the commander of the Memphis District Army Corps of Engineers.
The flooded farmland includes about 90 homes.
The deliberate breach is intended to take pressure off other levees protecting Cairo, at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, where river levels this week surged past a record set in 1937.
Cairo, which used to boast a population that exceeded 15,000 in Mark Twain's day, now has approximately 2,800 residents.
The corps is expected to detonate more explosives at the southern end of the floodway to drain the water from the farmlands.
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