Climate Triage in the Midwest

May 3, 2011

First responders have it drilled into them. In a mass casualty situation, you can’t save everyone.  The procedure is to bust out the toe tags, decide which victims are beyond hope, tag them, and move on.

As greater extremes in greenhouse-fueled weather events become commonplace, we will no doubt see more choices being made like the one this week at Cairo Illinois, near the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, currently seeing some of history’s worst flooding.


WYATT, Mo. — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers exploded a large section of a Mississippi River levee Monday in a desperate attempt to protect an Illinois town from rising floodwaters.

The corps said the break in the Birds Point levee would help tiny Cairo, Ill., by diverting up to 4 feet of water off the river. Just before Monday night’s explosions, river levels at Cairo were at historic highs and creating pressure on the floodwall protecting the town.

But questions remain about whether breaking open the levee would provide the relief needed, and how much water the blast would divert from the Mississippi River as more rain was forecast to fall on the region Tuesday. The seemingly endless rain has overwhelmed rivers and strained levees, including the one protecting Cairo, at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.

The issue was contested, as citizens in two states weighed sacrificing rich farmland to save a small city. The debate may be repeated further down the river, as the flood surge moves on, and rains continue.

Washington Post:

The decision to blow up the levee was contested by Missouri lawmakers and farmers, as it could potentially flood 130,000 acres of evacuated farmland. However, the U.S. Supreme Court refused the request to halt the explosion Sunday. It is not clear yet if the blast will provide the intended relief to Cairo, Ill

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