Corps halts levee break prep as states argue

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A federal judge hearing arguments over the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' plan to intentionally break a Mississippi River levee left the bench Thursday without making a ruling but indicated he was reluctant to get in the agency's way.

U.S. District Judge Stephen Limbaugh Jr. heard arguments from attorneys for the state of Missouri and the Army Corps of Engineers on the corps' proposal to use explosives to blow a 2-mile-wide hole through the Birds Point levee in southeast Missouri. The corps says breaking the levee would ease waters rising around the upstream town of Cairo, Ill., near the confluence of the swollen Mississippi and Ohio rivers.

The corps, however, halted its preparation for the break on Thursday, saying it needed until the weekend to assess whether a sustained crest of the Mississippi at Cairo would demand the extraordinary step.

The river's crest at the Cairo flood wall could reach 60.3 feet — nearly a foot above its record high — as early as Sunday, corps spokesman Jim Pogue said. The wall protects the town up to 64 feet, but there's concern the crest could last up to five days and create extra pressure on the wall.

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