June 18, 2008 -- As floodwaters in northern Iowa and Illinois recede, riverfront towns downstream in both Illinois and Missouri are now fighting the high water, hoping that more than two dozen levees still in the path of the rising Mississippi River will hold.
Overnight, at least two more levees were breached, including one in the tiny town of Myer, Ill., where ABC's Ryan Owens says officials knew the river was coming up. "All 40 or 50 residents were safely evacuated," Owens said. Adams County Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Julie Shepard told The Associated Press, the new flooding at Meyer could swamp 30,000 acres, about 47 square miles of farmland.
Officials are still assessing the damage in Iowa, where flooding already has caused an estimated $1.5 billion in damage, sent tens of thousand from their homes and wiped out thousands of acres of crops. Economists predict Americans across the country will see the cost of food go up as a result of the flooding.
For most of the area, it's the worst flooding in 15 years, since the devastating 1993 floods.
Officials think that as the river crest moves towards St. Louis, the water levels will meet or exceed the 1993 record, when the river crested at more than 13 feet above flood stage. Record crests could also occur in other towns, officials say, including Canton, Mo., Quincy, Ill., and Hannibal, Mo.
"Good Morning America's" Sam Champion took a helicopter tour of the region, one of the few ways to gauge the extent of the damage the flooding has wrought.
Over Fort Madison, Iowa, Champion saw dozens of motionless barges. "This is the main waterway — the artery — right down the middle of the country," Champion said. "Normally these barges would he pushing goods up and down the river, but that has shut down, now."
It's easy to see why, Champion said, as he pointed out a bridge with no clearance, the river lapping just below the roadway. "There's just no clearance under that bridge," he said.
Since the 1993 floods, cities all along the river have raised and beefed up levees, according to Larry Reever, a lockmaster for the Army Corps of Engineers and a 30-year veteran manager of the Mississippi. He told "GMA" he never expected to see flooding this bad, this soon. "No. Never Happen this way," he said.
All week, officials and volunteers added more sandbags to the top of levees all along the river, but yesterday Gulfport, Ill., became the latest city to succumb when the river crested at 26 feet, flooding Gulfport and its sister city across the river, Burlington, Iowa. More then a dozen people working to pile sandbags on the doomed levee had to be rescued after it failed.
So far at least 20 levees have overflowed, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.
Upriver it's mud and misery in towns like Cedar Rapids, one of the first to go underwater. Resident have returned to find their homes and belongings covered in toxic sludge.
"Even with masks on, you're still getting that smell, it's bad," one Cedar Rapids resident said.
Others are still trying to figure out where to start. "I don't know," said one women, fighting back tears. "Sometimes you can't think of everything because it's too overwhelming, but the important thing is my family is safe."
ABC News tracked down Tiffany Remington, who was last seen walking barefoot inside her mud-splattered home in Cedar Rapids two days ago.
She is now living in a shelter at a nearby high school. She told ABC News that her house has been condemned.
"It's rough, you can barely sleep," Remington said. "I'm pregnant, that makes everything a lot worse, I'm really scared."
"Words really don't explain how I'm feeling," her fiance, Charles Easterday, said. "I'm … worried about the future."
Fighting back tears, Remington said: "We lost our home, we lost all our belongings, memories."
President George W. Bush is expected to tour the flood-ravaged area Thursday.