A month ago, it looked as though arks might be in order this spring. But the second crest of rivers in southern Minnesota was looking less serious than expected Saturday.

And while floodwaters were rising in some areas, they were starting to recede in others.

On the St. Croix River, communities braced for a surge expected to peak early this week, and the National Weather Service warned that locally heavy rains could add to it.

On Saturday afternoon, the St. Croix gauge at Stillwater registered 86.8 feet, just shy of the 87-foot flood stage. By Thursday, it's forecast to be at 88.6 feet.

In nearby Bayport, homes along the river were sandbagged and some homeowners living closest to the water were starting to move belongings.

Mark Gear's home on Lakeside Drive has an enviable view of the river most of the time, but a playground set in his back yard was half-covered by water.

"The river just started swallowing the yard in the past week," he said.

The flood doesn't look as bad as 2001 -- so far -- but Gear and his friends and family were gathered Saturday to help move belongings from the basement of his father's home down the street.

Bill Gear said the river had risen at least an inch overnight. Based on previous experience, he was expecting his basement to fill with at least a foot of water.

"We're trying to save the furniture, at least," he said.

Asked how long he has lived along the river, he replied: "Too long."

On the Mississippi River in St. Paul, Saturday's 18.3-foot stage was forecast to hit 19.3 feet Wednesday evening, then begin to fall.

Along the Minnesota River, communities were heaving a cautious sigh of relief as the worst appeared to be over.

"That cool weather we had was a godsend," said Sgt. Steve DePew of the New Ulm Police Department.

The lower temperatures slowed the thaw of winter's snow and reduced the Minnesota's anticipated surge.

"I went out on one of our flooded roads, and I thought it was actually going down," DePew said. "You could see where the stuff gathered from the flood had washed up."

Numbers from the National Weather Service bore him out. The Minnesota at New Ulm was at 805.5 feet Saturday afternoon, 6 feet above flood stage, but beginning to steadily fall. The river's first crest had been higher by a few inches.

The Weather Service actually canceled the flood warning for Mankato, as the Minnesota River slipped to 21.9 feet, one-tenth of a foot below flood stage.

Upriver in Granite Falls, the Minnesota was also beginning to recede. "It looks pretty good, actually," said Officer Cory Johnson of the Granite Falls Police Department.

The city's Lagoon Park and other low-lying areas were flooded, and Hwy. 212 between the city and Montevideo remain closed, but there were no serious problems.

Jim Anderson • 651-735-0999