SIKESTON — A National Guard battalion from Columbia has positioned itself in the center of the flooding in southeast Missouri to help execute relief efforts there.
The 175th Military Police Battalion from Columbia was deployed Tuesday and is now in charge of 400 soldiers, mostly volunteers from around the state who are responding to the needs of flood-stricken communities.
On Wednesday, the battalion relocated to Sikeston after flood conditions in Poplar Bluff stabilized.
Levees around Sikeston are still at risk. Second Lt. Joseph Moore said Wednesday that two levees along the Mississippi River might be breached, affecting smaller river towns around Sikeston.
The battalion is standing by to track the situation and assign the troops to rescue missions.
Moore said the National Guard would stay around Sikeston until they are dismissed by the local civil authorities.
Much of southern Missouri has already endured six straight days of rain, with some parts of the region measuring up to 15 inches.
The swollen Black River caused 1,000 homes in Poplar Bluff to be evacuated Tuesday after the river topped a levee in more than 30 places.
Butler County President Commissioner Ed Strenfel said he thinks the city has "turned a corner."
The water levels of the Black River have been hovering around 20 feet. If the river remains at that level or recedes, the city would consider letting displaced residents return to their homes Thursday evening, Strenfel said.
As of Wednesday evening, about 300 people were staying in the Black River Coliseum on high ground in downtown Poplar Bluff. Another 250 were expected, Emergency Operations Center liaison Genia Weitzel said.
James Roberts and his mother, Doris Calderon, of Poplar Bluff, said they hope to return to their home Thursday but don't know how much it has been damaged. Roberts and Calderon, who live on the south side of town, came to the shelter Monday afternoon.
Both are employed at the Manufacturers Assistance Group and are concerned the possible damage to the building could keep them from going back to work.
Calderon teared up when she talked about being displaced from their home, but Roberts said he has "kept a high spirit" by telling jokes and volunteering around the shelter.
"I was sweeping the floors and sidewalks early," Roberts said. "I carried in groceries. Pretty much if anybody needed anything done, I was there to help them."
Meanwhile, the Ohio River is forecast to crest early Thursday, which would jeopardize downriver cities such as Cairo, Ill., which has a population of about 3,000.
The Army Corps of Engineers is still waiting to decide whether to open a levee at Birds Point on the Mississippi River and flood about 130,000 acres of Missouri farmland.
This would release floodwaters onto bottomlands in Mississippi County where about 200 residents live.
Gov. Jay Nixon objects to the plan and asked Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster to file a lawsuit preventing the breach. A judge with the U.S. District Court in Cape Girardeau will hear the suit at 1:30 p.m. Thursday.
With rain forecast into the weekend, more residents may be asked to evacuate. All evacuations to this point have been voluntary.
Cotie Drope, a specialist with the 1175th Military Police Company of St. Claire and St. Louis, returned Wednesday night after informing residents of the danger they could face. The Company also let them know that the National Guard was there to assist with the evacuation.
"One life, that's a life you don't want to lose," Drope said. "Every life is valuable."
Emergency shelters are being set up around Birds Point in the event the Army Corps puts its plan in place to breach the levee above Cairo. The plan would involve mandatory evacuation of all homes in the flood's way.
"It's hard to find a bright spot in our situation other than the fact that there haven't been any fatalities or injuries," Rick Sliger, emergency management director, said.