The National Weather Service said the river would remain high for at least two more weeks, which means no immediate end to patrol duty along stressed temporary dikes.
St. Paul Downtown Airport was closed because of submerged runways and four riverfront parks were under deep water.
"The worst part of the flooding and damage is over. But the ickiest part is still to come, and that's the cleanup," Kris Eide, assistant director of the Minnesota Division of Emergency Management said at a briefing Wednesday.
The predicted 23.5-foot crest would be the third-highest in St. Paul, after crests of 26 feet in 1965 and 24.5 feet in 1969, and mark the 28th time the city has flooded since record-keeping began in 1867.
The Mississippi crested at 16.4 feet at La Crosse, Wis., Wednesday afternoon, 7 inches lower than forecast, as the high water barreled downstream toward the Quad Cities in Iowa and Illinois. The dikes held in La Crosse, but about 250 homes, including many vacation homes on French Island, were damaged. The river was expected to stay above the 12-foot flood stage for several weeks before dropping to normal levels.
Water reached the top of stop signs on Main Street in Prairie du Chien, Wis., 50 miles south of La Crosse, where residents stacked sandbags and manned pumps battling to save their homes. The river was forecast to crest at 23.7 feet Thursday, more than five feet over flood stage.
Emergency declarations were in effect in nine Wisconsin counties along the Mississippi.
About 75 National Guard troops arrived in Davenport, Iowa, to help fill and stack 25,000 sandbags to hold back the river, which was 3 feet above the 18-foot flood stage at Lock and Dam 15.
Davenport residents had plenty of practice fighting floods in 1993, 1997 and now 2001, but unlike other river cities never built a permanent floodwall to protect the waterfront. Water that seeped under sandbags caused moderate flooding in streets along the river.
"One person shovels, one person bags, and one person stacks them up," said a tired volunteer.
The river was expected to rise about a foot a day in Davenport before a predicted crest between 21.5 and 22.5 feet by Wednesday. The river reached a record 22.63 feet in the flood of 1993.
A 403-mile stretch of the Mississippi remained closed to boat and barge traffic from Minneapolis to Muscatine, Iowa. The Burlington Northern & Santa Fe tracks used by Amtrak passenger trains between Chicago and Minneapolis were covered by floodwaters.
The Minnesota River crested at Jordan, Minn., Thursday and on Friday was expected to crest in Shakopee, Minn., where a teen-ager from Eden Prairie was swept away Sunday and presumed drowned.
The Red River, which runs northward on the borders of Minnesota and North and South Dakota, continued to recede. Officials feared weekend rains could bring the river back up at Fargo, N.D., and Breckenridge, Minn. The Point Bridge linking Grand Forks, N.D., and East Grand Forks, Minn., reopened.
Emergency management officials said Minnesota communities had spent more than $10 million on flood defenses.
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