Cliff and Donna Ferguson had already hauled out chairs, a bed, their television — nearly everything that would be ruined if the Missouri River spills over its banks as expected and floods their home in the small southwest Iowa town of Hamburg.
With their Chevy pickup already packed, Cliff Ferguson looked up at the dozen deer heads hanging on walls above him.
"I was planning on leaving some of this stuff here, but I may end up taking some of these," he said, nodding to the heads. "This flood's going to be different. It's going to be worse."
The rising Missouri River is set to reach peak flows within days and won't return to normal until September as the Army Corps of Engineers manages a series of swollen reservoirs in Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota and faces the prospect of huge snowpack melting in the Rockies. That means people leaving their homes and businesses in early June may not be able to come back before late summer.
"It's already worse because we've got more junk now, and we're older," said the 73-year-old Ferguson, who, like thousands of living near the Missouri, endured historic flooding in 1993.
The question in Hamburg is whether a levee along the river that already has sprung a leak will completely give way, leaving only a temporary barrier to protect the town of 1,100. Officials skeptical the levees will survive have ordered half the town to evacuate and warned that up to 10 feet of water could surge into Hamburg and then remain for weeks, or months.
Julee Smith said her home should be high enough to remain dry, but worries about her 84-year-old mother, whose home would be swamped. And if the town floods, Smith wouldn't be able to get to her job at a Walmart across the river in Nebraska City, Neb.
"I really don't have a good plan. I really don't," she said.
Terry Holliman has already closed his Napa Auto Parts store south of downtown Hamburg and removed much of the merchandise. He expects to lose $35,000 in sales in one month, even if the store remains dry. If the levees fail and the store is inundated, costs would climb to about $150,000.
"It's serious money, no doubt about it," Holliman said.
About 60 miles upriver, Kelli Shaner said the river has crept closer and closer to her farmhouse near Fort Calhoun, Neb. She's sure the house and much of their property will flood.
Her family spent the past week moving farm equipment to fields the family rents farther from the river, emptying their grain bin and finding temporary homes for their four horses, cow, chickens, dog and cat. She told her three sons, ages 5, 7 and 10, to pack up their favorite toys and be prepared to stay with relatives until the fall.
"At first we thought maybe a month, but as reports come out, it sounds like maybe November," said Shaner, whose family grows corn and soybeans. She said they'll be able to farm some of their fields this year but others will be underwater.
The family's losses depend on how high the water rises and how long it remains. They haven't yet laid off any of their four employees but fear having to do so.
"Our concern is keeping our employees employed," she said.
Stephanie Smith found herself packing up her house in McCook Lake, S.D., only days before she expected to give birth to her first child. Her doctor said she could help move from her home just upstream from Sioux City, Iowa, but only if she didn't lift anything heavier than 10 pounds.
"I'm a little stressed out, a little overwhelmed," Smith said.
They expect the river to fill their basement rise 3 feet high on their first floor.
The basement is wood and, Smith said, "our fear is, if it floods for any length of time, it will rot everything out and our house will fall in."
She and her baby will move in with her parents in Omaha, Neb. But her husband, Lance, will have to stay nearly two hours away with his parents in Sioux City so he can continue working at a Delta Airlines reservation center.
"I wish we weren't dealing with this now, but we're just going to have to take one day at a time."
Associated Press writers Chet Brokaw in Pierre, S.D., Timberly Ross in Fort Calhoun, Neb., and Margery Beck in Omaha, Neb. contributed to this report.