LOUISIANA, Mo. — The Mississippi was cresting Sunday at Canton, Mo., not far from the Iowa state line, and crests were forecast for today in two other Missouri towns, offering hope that record flooding will soon give way to recovery.
"It's quieter compared to earlier this week," said Louisiana emergency management director Mike Lesley, adding that sandbagging in the town had largely ceased.
But elsewhere, the river, swollen by its northern tributaries, is still rising and continues to threaten dozens of communities in Illinois and Missouri. The latest forecasts for hard-hit Winfield and Grafton, Ill., pushed back the crest to Wednesday, and floodwater is standing as far north as Iowa City, Iowa.
An estimated 35,000 people have been displaced by floods, and 24 have been killed in what the federal government describes as the biggest disaster since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
After the days of anxious waiting for the water to go down comes the heart-wrenching return home, and the long road toward recovery. Early estimates suggest that the extent of the cleanup will be unlike anything some of the flooded cities have experienced.
In ravaged Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Alice and Jon Galvin had waited for the day the water would recede and the city would drop its barricades and let them go home again — only to find that there is no going home again. The two-bedroom cottage where they spent the last several decades was not a match for the surging Cedar River, which crested at a record flood level 10 days ago.
"First you evacuate, and you deal with the worry and the unknown," said their daughter, Mary Boyd. "Then you come back to find this. … Where do you start? This is a mess."
The Galvins are picking now at the moldy ruins in stifling stench, gingerly disinfecting a few items but consigning most of their possessions to a pile of debris on the curb — as are thousands of other families from Cedar Rapids south to Missouri.
In Cedar Rapids alone, it is estimated that the 4,200 flooded houses are producing about a ton of debris each. Beyond that, businesses, schools, hospitals, churches and government offices are flooded, bringing the city's total flood-garbage load to about 300,000 tons, officials estimated. A typical garbage truck can handle about 4 tons of trash.
"We're looking at 10 to 15 times as much garbage as we've ever dealt with, so this is huge," said Mark Jones, the superintendent of the city's Solid Waste and Recycling Division. Backup trucks are arriving from across the state.
Although Cedar Rapids was hardest hit, there has been flooding throughout central and eastern Iowa. Even in some cities where the crest had passed, water was still 10 feet to 12 feet above flood level.
Total crop loss in Iowa — including hay and pasture — is likely nearing $3-billion.
While there have been no outbreaks of diseases related to the flood, water contamination is a serious concern.
"These floodwaters are all contaminated with Lord knows what — everything that's been washed out of the sewer plants and garages, basements, businesses, manure," said Doug Hawker, an environmental specialist with the Department of Natural Resources.
In Missouri, where floodwaters swallowed homes and fields north of St. Louis, officials said it was too early to determine the full scope of destruction.
"There's no federal disaster assistance for this current round of flooding yet," said Susie Stonner, a spokeswoman for Missouri's emergency management agency. "We have to do damage assessment, but we can't get in until the water recedes."
The Mississippi River has yet to crest in Illinois, so damage reports there are preliminary, too. Levee breaches have inundated hundreds of houses and businesses and countless acres of farmland.
In Cahokia, Ill. , even as many found cheer that floodwaters would fall well short of what had been predicted, residents and officials discovered a stark reminder of what might lie ahead: a sand boil on the aged levee that protects the town, a telltale sign that the swollen river had begun eroding the structure from beneath.
Information from the Associated Press and New York Times was used in this report.