By JIM SALTER
ST. LOUIS (AP) - The Mississippi River is receding at the last of the big flooding trouble spots, but it will likely be months before the full scope of the damage is known.
Information from the National Weather Service showed that the river crested at 10.1 feet above flood stage early Friday at Cape Girardeau, Mo., and had dropped by one-tenth of a foot by late morning. Cape Girardeau was the final river gauge point facing what the weather service characterizes as "major" flooding.
Is the worst of the flooding over on the Mississippi? "That's certainly what we want to believe," National Weather Service hydrologist Mark Fuchs said.
Rain over the weekend could slow the river's decline, but is unlikely to cause another spike, Fuchs said. Otherwise, the long-term forecast through May offers good news for besieged river towns in Iowa, Illinois and Missouri: Below-normal precipitation.
"That will help the rivers head back to where they belong for this time of year," Fuchs said.
Heavy rain last week spurred a sudden rise in the Mississippi and other Midwestern rivers. Along the Mississippi, hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland have been swamped, roads and bridges have been shut down in numerous locations in Iowa, Illinois and Missouri, and scattered residents have been evacuated.
Exactly how much damage has occurred won't be known for some time, perhaps months. Mike O'Connell, spokesman for the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency, said damage assessments can't even begin until the water recedes, and the river is expected to remain above flood stage well into next month at many locations.
O'Connell said determining damage is a joint operation involving local, state and federal officials.
While the river was receding in northern Missouri, backwater was rising near roughly two dozen homes combined in the towns of Winfield and Foley. Officials said water that had poured over small agricultural levees was pooling and some of it was in the yards of homes. Pumps were being used to try and removed the water.
Despite the crests, one lingering concern on the Mississippi is the fact that the water remains high, putting pressure on dozens of levees big and small. Fuchs said a priority of levee districts will be to give their structures a close inspection once the waters recede, and expedite repairs.
"Levees take a beating," Fuchs said. "The districts need to get out there and reinforce the problems that floods uncover."