As the slow-moving wall of floodwater makes its way down the Mississippi River, residents in areas that have already been affected by the deluge are beginning to take stock of the damage.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened a spillway Monday north of New Orleans in an effort to stem flooding from the rising Mississippi River, which has already affected thousands of people in eight Midwestern and Southern states.
The procedure is not a cure-all. Last week, the Corps intentionally breached a levee in Missouri to reduce pressure on other levees, flooding 130,000 acres of agricultural land, over the objection of state officials and some farmers. People in those areas are still struggling in the aftermath of the breach.
They levy was blown up to save the small town of Cairo, Illinois, from rising floodwaters. Now, farm families in nearby Charleston, Missouri, are awash in misery.
Marilyn Nally, a 73-year-old widow, looked at her flooded farmhouse a quarter mile in the distance.
"I’m very sad. At my age, I just don’t know how much I can fix up,” she said.
Many Charleston residents felt that the Corps should have waited longer before blowing the levy that flooded their fields. Farmers Roy and Ray Dennison looked out across the muddy water and could not see the tops of their wheat crop. The brothers estimate they lost $350,000 in the wheat crop alone.
Vickie Caldwell, hair white with experience and heartache, ignored an evacuation order and stayed in Cairo, which is between the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. Caldwell was born and raised in the town and raised a daughter and a son here.
Some people joked that Cairo, with a decayed downtown and fewer than 2,500 residents, was not worth saving. Caldwell bristled at such comments.
“I hear it a lot. It makes me feel sad you know. They don’t live here; they don’t know the people here. We’ve got good people here."
In Jackson County, Illinois, residents began returning to their homes this week to assess damage as floodwaters began to drop, CNN affiliate WSIL reported.
Jeff Dickman was one of the 120 people forced out of his home at the Reed Station Mobile Home Park in Carbondale when Crab Orchard Creek flooded more than a week ago.
He returned home for the first time since then to evidence of the floods in every inch of his trailer. The floors and the walls of his trailer are buckling. A water line stains his kitchen table and cabinets about 20 inches from the floor.
Much of his furniture is still soggy, his wood furniture and his carpet full of silt from water.
"I was in here when there was water in here," he told WSIL. "It looked bad. But now you can see how real bad it was."
A stench of sewage pervades the mobile home park. Moisture, combined with this week's high temperatures, has created mold on almost every surface.
"I guess the first thing I'm going to do is just tear out all the floor covering and see what I've got underneath," he told WSIL.
By Tuesday, attention began turning to flooding concerns in Louisiana and Mississippi as the Mississippi River reached levels in Memphis, Tennessee, unseen since 1927, forecasters said.
Danny Hayes lives seven miles from the Mississippi River in Bogota, Tennessee, a town of 1,000 homes north of Memphis.
Historic flooding in the region forced many in small towns like Bogota to flee. The one acre of land Hayes retired to is no longer recognizable to him. Groves of pecan trees now stand half-covered in water.
But Hayes refuses to leave. He is using a boat to get around and carries a rifle to kill snakes and other predators.
"I'd say for the average person who grew up in towns, you'd be in a dangerous situation," he said. "I'd say a person who learned to live off the land and to survive, it's not a big thing."