The Army Corps of Engineers intentionally blew a levee holding back floodwaters in Missouri late Monday, sacrificing thousands of acres of farmland to save a nearby town.
About 100 homes and 130,000 acres of farmland were destroyed by the surging water.
The engineers set off explosions at the levee to spare a community of about 2,800 people in Cairo, Ill. Missouri residents opposed the move saying it would crush the region's economy.
"It's a life-changing event," said local farmer Travis Williams. "My heart goes out to all the farmers who lost their land and homes."
Hours after the blast, the water level at Cairo dropped rapidly. Before the levee was breached, the Mississippi River was at more than 61 feet and rising. By Tuesday morning after the blast, the river had fallen at least a foot.
The federal government is promising relief for people who were affected by the levee breach. A tiny village called Pin Hook was completely flooded.
Engineers wanted to bring down another levee Tuesday, but the weather prevented it.