US Army Corps of Engineers
Louisville District

Corps responds to flooding along lower Ohio River

Published March 1, 2019

February’s heavy rainfall events in the Ohio Valley led to flooding along the lower Ohio and Wabash rivers and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Louisville District Emergency Operations Center activated in response.


During emergencies, the district’s EOC works closely with state and local sponsors to provide emergency assistance including performing inspections of river levees and providing supplies and technical expertise to construct temporary flood protection for local communities.


“We were fully activated, working in coordination with the state to deploy our flood fight teams and supplies to necessary areas as quickly as possible,” said George Minges, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Louisville District emergency operations manager. “Throughout the month of February we deployed eight flood fight teams, issued 17 pumps and deployed three sandbagging machines which helped to fill 50,000 sandbags.”


The city of Smithland, Kentucky requested Corps assistance to provide supplies and technical oversight for the construction of a 5,000-foot long temporary levee comprised of geocells to protect homes and businesses. 


Along the sprawling riverbank in Smithland were crews of more than 100 people pitching in to fill sandbags in hopes of holding back the mighty Ohio River. 
“Things are working the way they should due to the partnerships of local, state and federal entities,” said Steven Shifflett, geotechnical engineer and technical lead for the large scale operation.


Construction of the temporary levee was a joint effort among the Corps, Department of Transportation, Department of Corrections and the National Guard.
“We’re running 24-hour operations with our Corps staff working day shifts and night shifts to help man the automatic sandbagging machine and provide technical expertise with filling the geocells,” said Shifflett who helped construct the same temporary structure there during flooding in 2011.


Local citizens welcomed the Corps return. 


“The Corps has been really helpful down here with this event and with the one in 2011,” said Harry VanSmith, lifelong resident of Smithland. “Everybody is doing all they can.”


Flood fight efforts continued up and down the river with the Corps sending sandbagging machines and flood fight teams to areas in Ledbetter and Paducah and providing levee inspections in cities such as Brookport.


High water levels on the Ohio River also impacted navigation causing locking operations to temporarily cease at Smithland and John T. Myers. More than 70 tows were in the queue at Smithland when locking resumed March 9. 


Throughout the closure lock staff worked in close coordination with the navigation industry. 


“Personnel from Smithland Locks and Dam worked diligently to clear debris and drift from the machinery trenches to return the locks to operation,” said Brad Stout, operations manager for locks and dams. “Project staff successfully cleared out the queue of 73 tows in less than four days, through daily coordination with representatives from towing industry.”