CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – The Army Corps of Engineers inched closer Saturday to blowing a hole in a Mississippi River levee to try to keep floodwaters out of an Illinois town after a federal appeals court declined to stop the move.

The state of Missouri had asked the court to block the plan to protect roughly 130,000 acres of farmland.

The Corps of Engineers moved two barges loaded with the makings of an explosive sludge into position near the Birds Point levee in Missouri, but said it hadn’t yet decided that it needed to breach the 60-foot-high earthen wall to protect Cairo, Ill.

More than half that town’s 2,800 residents had been evacuated from the area, local police said. Further upstream, Ohio River towns like Old Shawneeville, Ill., were plugging leaks in their own levees, hoping they hold.

The 230 people who live in the southeast Missouri flood plain behind the Bird Point levee had been evacuated from their homes, said a spokesman for Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon.