Exhausted emergency crews pressed on Saturday in their fight to control the swelling Mississippi River, which continued to flood areas in the Midwest but began receding in some towns.

Flooding conditions hit parts of Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa particularly hard.

The river crested Saturday in several southwestern Wisconsin cities and towns, signaling the much-awaited retreat of floodwaters. 

Homeowners along the upper Mississippi River monitored levees and kept pumps humming against the rising waters. Some of the river's overflow spilled over a rural levee onto farm land, which temporarily eased the threat to a few towns.

Heavy winds swept through the area along with rain, sending waves slapping against the siding of houses surrounded by water and washing plastic bottles and other trash against a levee in Dubuque, Iowa.

In Cassville, Wis., the Mississippi crested at 22.3 feet late Friday and at 23.75 feet overnight 30 miles upriver in Prairie du Chien, where it measured at almost 8 feet above the 16-foot flood stage Saturday at 23.69 feet, according to the National Weather Service. The record flood level in Prairie du Chien, 25.4 feet, was set in 1965.

In Illinois, Gov. George Ryan took a helicopter tour of East Dubuque, Savanna and the Quad Cities on Saturday to get a firsthand look at the situation. Ryan called up the Illinois National Guard to help fight flooding and declared a disaster in eight river counties. He said the state would resume efforts to buy out homes in flood-prone areas. Illinois bought about 3,000 houses after the 1993 flooding that devastated parts of the Mississippi Valley.

The river was expected to reach 25 feet at Dubuque on Saturday, but the city remained safe thanks to a flood wall built in 1965 that can withstand river heights of 33 feet.

In Davenport, Iowa, the largest city along the upper Mississippi River lacking a flood control system, the river was expected to crest at 22 feet to 22.5 feet on Tuesday. Public Works Director Dee Bruemmer said the city should avoid major damage if crest predictions hold. 

Amtrak said its passenger route between Chicago and Minneapolis remained shut down Friday because parts of the track were flooded. Freight trains also were forced to change routes to avoid flooded or flood-damaged tracks. The river remained closed to barges.

"The Mississippi will remind us every once in a while who's boss," said Congressman Ron Kind, who toured the town's hardest-hit areas Friday with Crawford County emergency officials and was forced out of his own house because of flooding.

Kind, D-Wis., said the water was still hip-deep at his home 60 miles upriver in La Crosse, where the river reached peak heights Wednesday of 16.4 feet. It had dropped to 15.93 feet by Saturday morning.

About 40 families in Cassville have voluntarily evacuated their homes since the river began to rise and flood the region. Most houses in the town, with a population of about 1,100, had water in their basements. The weekend forecast called for more rain.

For many communities, the problem was that the excess water had nowhere to go since the ground was saturated and the storm sewers were full of river water. Crews worked around the clock to pump river water from the sewer systems back into the river.

"The more rain we get, the more damage we'll have," said Grant County Emergency Director Steve Braun. "No matter how many pumps or how many people we have to run the pumps, it's not going to help."

Confident in the power of sandbag levees and water pumps to prevent water from inundating many houses, some residents weren't letting the heavy flooding get in the way of their weekend plans as the sun set on a warm Friday evening.

Standing in water that reached above their knees, Dan Noble and Tom Bouzek decided to go ahead with a barbecue, drinking bottles of beer and cooking bratwurst over a partially submerged charcoal grill outside Rowdy's Bar & Grill.

"He's crazy," said Deb Noble, who stood on dry land watching her husband.

In La Crosse, a state of emergency remained in effect Saturday. The river was expected to remain around 16 feet throughout the weekend — 4 feet above flood stage.

Compared to some other communities, residents of Dubuque, took the high water in stride Saturday, walking along the city's flood wall and taking photographs. The wall can withstand the river at up to 33 feet. 

"We're in pretty good shape compared to a lot of places,'' said John Klostermann, Dubuque's street and sewer supervisor. ``It's kind of uneventful — that's the way we like it.''

Downstream on the Illinois shore, however, there was a brief scare Saturday when the Mississippi began dropping at Keithsburg and New Boston, indicating water was draining through a break in a levee somewhere upstream.

Local officials scrambled to find the breach and found that water had poured over a levee on the Iowa side near Lake Odessa, threatening only farmland, said Rick Arkell of the National Weather Service.

"They knew the levee was going to fail and decided to let it over-top instead of trying to build it up," he said. "It's certainly better than washing out a town somewhere."

The river soon resumed its rise down stream, Arkell said. "It probably will take a little bit off the crest down there," he said, although the difference would be very small.

East Dubuque resident Virginia Hoftender counted her blessings even though her home was surrounded by water.

"It hasn't been too bad for us, but it hurts when you see your neighbor next door lose everything," said Hoftender, who has lived in her house since 1957.

Water was 9 feet deep in Scott Cosley's basement and it was just about up to the living area.

"Nine inches to go and I'm really sweating it," Cosley said. "If you want to live by the river, this is the price you pay. It doesn't come every year but when it does, it really does."