On Thursday, I wrote a diary about Missouri House Speaker Steve Tilley laughing and joking about the potential flooding of Cairo, Illinois. Cairo is a town of 2,800 on the tip of Southern Illinois and is predominately African-American, many of whom live below the poverty line. There's no doubting the racist implication of Tilley's remarks.
Unfortunately, Tilley's wish for Cairo to be underwater may well become reality. On Saturday, the mayor of Cairo issued a mandatory evacuation order. Very large sand boils have been located below the levees, which may be a death knell for this historic town.
A quiet rural city that famously sits at the confluence of the country's largest rivers is a deserted ghost town after terrified residents fled due to massive flood threats.
Cairo, Ill., Mayor Judson Childs ordered the city's nearly 3,000 residents to leave after record rainfalls left the Ohio River surging out of control and pushing the town's leeves to their breaking point.
Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/...
There hasn't been much attention paid to the severity of the flooding throughout the midwest, and I'd like to pass along the comments of a friend who lives in Cairo and her evacuation from the town over the weekend. It's possibly the saddest thing I've ever read.
I'll begin by giving a bit of background; my friend Lori and her partner found a house in Cairo a couple of years ago that they fell in love with. An elegant two story home with brick stairs to the entrance, lots of room for their cats and dogs, a large lot. They loved the historic nature of Cairo and when they bought the house became city boosters, encouraging everyone to visit the town, buy a business, help revive a dying downtown. They began lovingly restoring the home and put in stunningly beautiful gardens and landscaping. It was the home of their dreams and it showed.
When the rains came, they watched the rivers rise. And rise. And rise. They saw a Missouri politician laugh about their town and put farmland over human lives. When the voluntary evacuation order came last week, they packed their things and put them on the upper floors and waited to see if the voluntary order would become mandatory. Saturday, it did. They had to leave.
This was Lori's first update on Saturday (used with permission):
I had been posting on a Topix forum for Cairo with another woman in town today and I mentioned where we live. Within a half hour her husband was at the door. He works for an official organization but he came by in an unofficial capacity to tell us we needed to be heading out sooner rather than later. He gave me some information that he asked me not to put on the Internet, but it was convincing enough that I went upstairs, woke up Ev and told her we had to go ... now.
We're staying with friends in Murphysboro and that's all we know. I can only say that the situation in Cairo looks bad. I think a person who bet on worst case scenario... would probably not lose money.
In the end we left everything in the house but some clothes, the pets, the beer and the portable file with our important papers. I moved a lot of things upstairs, but really ... it seemed foolish to waste precious time loading the truck with a closet full of photographs and we were too overwhelmed to make decisions. I'm know there will be things we'll regret leaving ... there already are ... but what are you gonna do? For the moment I'm trying not to think about the house or I'll start mentally walking through the rooms cataloging the things I love, which just leads to crying. There'll be time enough for that.
We saved Mr. Stripey [a feral cat which they had been leaving food for], which matters a lot to me, and we're safe, which is the most important thing. Please remind me of that when we're picking through the mud hoping to find our stuff.
Thanks for all your good wishes and support. We'll be checking in when we can.
PS: I always wanted to write a book. Maybe this will be that. I think the moral of this story is that people shouldn't fuck with things so much. If you straighten out the bends in the Mississippi River you get a river that runs too fast and floods too often. If you build a wall around a spit of land that nature has been flooding for millions of years, there's going to be battle the wall won't win.
This was her second update, posted at 3:48 Sunday morning:
I went out on Katie and Jesse's front porch for a cigarette about 8:15 and my head was just full of swirling snapshots of our house. When I walked back in the house Ev was reading her FB wall with tears in her eyes and I said, "You know, Ev, we have until midnight. We could in there and get some stuff out." It took about 30 seconds to decide to go for it.
We left Murphysboro at 8:45 and made the hour and a half drive in just over an hour. Just for a little insult to go with the injury it started raining almost as soon as we got on the road ... in the first rain we've had in days, coming down in buckets. The only road into Cairo was blocked by police cars, lights flashing, stopping cars. All they asked was if we were residents, waved us through and said, "Stay safe."
We hit the front door with a large economy size box of heavy duty industrial size trash bags and two cardboard boxes, courtesy of Jesse, with exactly two hours to evacuation deadline. Ev hooked up the flatbed trailer and I started in the kitchen. I grabbed and wrapped and stuffed things into every sort of container we could scrounge from around the house while Ev stuffed bags with photo albums, boxes of photos, framed photos ... lots and lots of photos. We hauled and bagged and dragged and stuffed until we filled the flatbed and the bed of the pickup truck. Ev took all the houseplants and put them on the porch to give them a fighting chance in the rain.
When we got down to the piano sheet music I said, "I'm going to take the last few minutes to sort this, I don't need it all, but I want the stuff in the piano bench." Ev said, "This IS the last moment. We're out of time." I stuffed the music basket into the last garbage bag in the box, we shut off the lights, locked the doors. The last thing we did was grab our favorite houseplants and squeeze them into whatever spaces we could find in the back of the truck and I grabbed my jade plant to carry on my lap.
About five blocks from home -- as we were high-fiving each other about how all that work in two hours would probably guarantee Cairo's safety because that would be the ultimate irony, and laughing that the Belvedere Motel still had their neon "MO" sign lit -- midnight arrived, someone threw the switch at Cairo Public Utility, and Cairo went completely pitch dark. Even now I'm almost positive I heard an audible "thunk" like you hear when you switch off your main breaker...we passed back under the Cairo gate and the rain, which had mostly let up while we were packing, returned with a vengeance.
When you live in Southern Illinois you see some impressive storms, but I've never been in one like this. Lighting was striking so close to the car it was blinding for a few seconds. It was raining so hard it was like driving under water, with the wind whipping the big trees along I-57 and Ev hanging onto the steering wheel for all she was worth, hoping we wouldn't hit a spot where the water from the drainage ditches finally spilled across the highway.
Ev told me earlier in the week that if it would at least rain she would feel more urgency, but it was hard to feel like a flood was imminent when the sun was shining and the birds were singing. It worked. It certainly looked and felt like a cataclysm.
So we made it back to Murphysboro and Jesse backed the trailer into their garage, we piled everything from the truck onto the trailer and we're done. We've saved the photos, the collection of beer glasses from all over the country, the coffee mugs we love, my grandmother's crockery, a lot of things from the china cabinets, framed artwork from the walls, the good coffee maker, the cappucino machine, Ev's rice cooker and the set of DirtWorks pottery she got years ago that sits on the kitchen counter. Everything we've got is sore, but it's a satisfying kind of pain, and it was a hell of a lot more productive than weeping in [their friends] living room until it was too late.
Tomorrow Cooper [their dog] goes to a foster family until we land somewhere or go home. If we go home, that will be the best thing ever. If we don't, we're pretty free and loose and we figure we can go just about anywhere we like. Except the beach. We'd be sure to attract a hurricane.
Finally, last night.
We get very little news, none at all in the Southern Illinoisan newspaper. The most current information we can get is usually from the Southeast Missourian online.
We had god knows how many more inches of rain in the past 24 hours. We drove through it for another 12 hours today taking Cooper to Springfield Missouri so a volunteer with Wonder Weims Rescue could foster her until we have somewhere to be or know what's happening. Tomorrow Ev will put in another 12 hours in the opposite direction taking Pickle to her ex sis-in-law in Bloomington, Indiana. The cats are all with Ev's daughter. It's very strange to go through this daily detachment from your life ... first the house, then the pets one by one ... and be completely powerless to do anything about anything. Just a month ago we were celebrating the halfway point on the house payments and congratulating ourselves for being so good and frugal and stuff. And Cooper had just graduated from the crate at night to where we could trust her to sleep on her favorite chair at night. Today I was bawling like a baby and kissing her big dumb face goodbye in the pouring rain in a WalMart parking lot. The rain won't stop coming, the river won't stop rising, the Corps won't make a decision and the whole thing is just surreal. I'm dead tired but I can't sleep. Every time I close my eyes I dream about water where it isn't supposed to be. Last night I dreamed the basement flooded where we're now houseguests and Ev dreamed she was falling through water. I think I'm beginning to understand PTSD.
I'm posting this because the midwestern flooding is going almost unnoticed in the media (even before the bin Laden news last night), despite the huge areas impacted over many states. There is a crisis developing that is unimaginable. Please keep these folks in your thoughts, because the days ahead are going to be so, so hard.Updated by Dem Beans at Mon May 02, 2011 at 01:30 PM CDT
UPDATE: I sent Lori a link to this diary (her diary, really, since she wrote almost all of it). She's really touched by the support and kindness of this community. It means a lot - thank you.
UPDATE 2: The Army Corps of Engineers has decided to blast the Birds Point Levee in Missouri. Let's hope this helps...
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has decided to move forward with a plan to blast open a Mississippi River levee in an attempt to protect Cairo, IL from rising floodwaters. Actual demolition is expected to begin after 9:00pm Monday night and continue into Tuesday morning.
Missouri officials oppose the move, saying it will inundate 130,000 acres of farmland, making it useless and causing the region's economy to suffer. The Corps and the state of Illinois say the demolition is crucial to relieving river pressure on the floodwall protecting Cairo, which sits at the confluence of the swollen Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.