HAMBURG, Iowa — 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.
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.