Before and after: A controversial flood plan put to use

Detail: Mississippi Floodways Map (click to view) Source: Mississippi River Commission

Last Monday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers made the decision to open the Birds Point levee, enacting one step in the extensive and controversial flood emergency plan first authorized in 1928 by Calvin Coolidge and expanded, refined and refinanced in the decades since. The diverted river inundated a swath of Missouri designated as the Birds Point-New Madrid Floodway, and drained, thus saving, the town of Cairo, Illinois.

This ongoing 2011 flood, originally triggered by a series of storms depositing six times the normal rainfall, has proven to be the worst possible situation for which the plan was designed — “The Project Flood.” To date, two of the three major floodways have been used. As the water surges toward the Gulf of Mexico, politicians and engineers are scrambling to shift its path to that of the least possible damage.

This week, Google, in conjunction with the satellite imaging company GeoEye, captured and released these images of Cairo and a portion of the surrounding flooded farmlands.

Drag the green bar to see before and after images.