Terry and Mary Beth Lee's farm stands -- or stood -- on the land that her great-great grandfather settled more than 200 years ago. Her dad and mom worked the wheat-rich fields beneath Birds Point levee up until they died within three months of each other in 1993, the year of the last 100-year flood.

"We vowed to them before they died that we were going to go to the farm and build a house there," Mary Beth Lee said.

Today, two centuries and a way of life, is submerged beneath a river of water.

The Lees, like so many Mississippi County residents, felt the thunderous blast of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer's detonations, breaching the levee at Birds Point and drowning 100 homes and scores of farms in the fertile floodway.

"I felt like when they blew that, it was all over," Mary Beth Lee said.

But what could prove to be a lengthy legal battle against the U.S. Government is only beginning.

The Lees joined about 80 property owners and farmers who live and work in the spillway and surrounding areas at a meeting this afternoon with attorneys at the Clara Drinkwater Newnam Library in Charleston, Mo.

This morning, J. Michael Ponder, attorney at Cape Girardeau-based Cook, Barkett, Ponder and Wolz, L.C. filed a lawsuit in Washington, D.C. seeking potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in damages for the farmers and property owners in the spillway flooded out by the levee's breach.

The suit claims the property owners' Fifth Amendment rights prohibiting a government taking without just compensation have been violated by the corps' action. The litigation, which this morning included 25 claimants, seeks class-action status.

"These folks have had their farms and livelihood sacrificed to save the lives and homes of others up and down the river," Ponder said. "We hope the federal government will help them rebuild their lives, but our experience with government is that it does not act unless it is forced to do so.

"The good intentions of government often are strangled by gridlock; that's why we are filing this lawsuit," said the attorney, who noted that he is from Charleston, Mo., in the shadow of the spillway.

"I have cousins wiped out by this. It hits me where it hurts. I want to help," Ponder said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was also named in the lawsuit, Ponder said, since they breached the levee. The corps has said flowage easements attached to the farmers' property deeds allowed them to breach the levee.

But Ponder said that some of the parcels had no flowage easements attached to deeds, and some were inadequate. In some cases, Ponder said, the corps actions went beyond the scope of the flowage easements.

Corps spokesman Jim Pogue could not be reached for comment.

Look for updates on the flood of 2011