As waters fell in tributaries of the Ohio River on Thursday, many of the flood's refugees took advantage of sunny weather to return to their homes - or what was left of them.
The tedious cleanup began wherever it could, from tiny Wamsley in Adams County to Aurora in Dearborn County, Ind.
But for many, the water is too high - and so are tensions.
In New Richmond, angry residents, blocked from returning to their homes, yelled at Mayor Jack Gooding, who had forced evacuation of most areas of the village a day earlier.
An early morning media briefing Thursday turned into a shouting match, and one man had to be restrained by police.
''I'm like a wet dog in a hot room,'' said Mayor Gooding, whose home is also flooded. Rules for returning will be discussed today.
There is some good weather news. The Ohio River will be back within its banks by the end of the weekend, not Wednesday as earlier thought.
''Current projections show that by 1 a.m. Monday, the river should fall to flood stage at 52 feet,'' said meteorologist Mike Dangelo of the National Weather Service in Wilmington.
The Licking River at Falmouth dropped below its 28-foot flood stage at 2 p.m. At 5:30 p.m., authorities canceled a flood warning. The Licking will drop to 24.2 feet by this morning.
The Ohio River is also receding. It had dropped to 64 feet Thursday evening, from Wednesday's crest of 64.7 feet. The river was moving at 5.7 mph, according to the service, and was still pushing more than 5.1 million gallons past Cincinnati every second.
The weather service is forecasting the river to drop to 63.5 feet this morning; to 60.7 feet by Saturday morning; and to 55.8 feet by Sunday morning.
Forecasters had predicted that the Ohio would be well above 52 feet until Wednesday, but rainfall was less upriver. The break in the weather came as welcome news for beleaguered communities along a swath from roughly Portsmouth, Ohio, to Louisville, 250 miles downriver.
Floods have been responsible for at least 22 deaths in Ohio and Kentucky. Thousands have been forced from their homes and businesses. Damage estimates, constantly being revised upward as the waters recede, are in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
The flood is the worst since 1964.
''It took four to six weeks to get back into our house in '64,'' said Marilyn Dreyer, 55, whose home in Cincinnati's East End was swamped by water. ''This looks like it'll be just as bad.''
President Clinton on Thursday added 28 more counties in Kentucky and Indiana to the list of counties in line for federal disaster relief. The list includes the Northern Kentucky counties of Campbell, Kenton and Gallatin. The additions bring to 53 the number of counties on the list in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. Mr. Clinton's decision means federal programs are available to businesses and individuals who suffered damage or loss.
Other developments in the Tristate included:
Ohio Gov. George Voinovich, returning early from a trade mission in Asia, is expected to tour the flood-damaged towns of New Richmond, Blue Creek, Portsmouth and New Boston today.
Leo Skinner, spokesman for the Ohio Emergency Management Agency, said leaders anticipate dramatically revising their $40 million damage estimate upward.
The Ohio Department of Transportation reported that 60 roads are still closed in the 16-county region considered a Presidential Disaster Area. The Ohio Public Utilities Commission reported 2,000 electric, 1,786 telephone and 1,200 gas customers without service Thursday. Problems have been reported in 35 water-supply systems in the state.
Ohio has activated 1,055 Army and Air National Guard members for traffic control, road cleanup and clearance, and transport of medical supplies and drinking water. Guard troops moved through many south-central counties searching for flood victims in the hollows and along back roads. Guard troops reported that many people who had been isolated by the flood were extremely hungry but generally OK. Five Ohioans are known to have drowned in the flood.
In Cincinnati, officials unveiled flood cleanup plans Thursday. Flood-hit neighborhoods have been grouped into five areas. Each of the five will have its own response team and its own service center. The first priority will be to correct safety hazards.
City Manager John Shirey also cautioned residents to watch out for scam artists. Cincinnati city departments are not soliciting donations for flood victims.
In Kentucky, National Guard troops continued to search the destroyed city of Falmouth for dead. Four bodies have been recovered as the Licking River recedes. Officials completed a house-to-house search without finding any more bodies.
For the first time since the flood, the guard took residents on a bus tour of their city to survey the damage. Residents were not allowed to get out of the bus.
In nearby Butler, Ky., also on the Licking, residents were allowed to go back to their homes.
''This is a mess,'' 71-year-old Mabel Elliott said, standing outside her house on Mill Street.
The floodwaters ruined the first floor of her house, buckling the walls, dislodging plaster from ceilings and leaving a coat of mud on the floors and walls.
''I'm not sure if I'll move back in,'' said Mrs. Elliott, who bought the house 26 years ago. ''I didn't dream the river would ever get in that house.''
Statewide damage estimates from the flood remain at $232 million but are expected to rise dramatically when the flood recedes completely and workers can truly assess the destruction.
In Indiana, Alden Taylor, spokesman for the Indiana Emergency Management Agency, said rising river levels have hampered emergency response.
''It's making relief work longer and harder,'' he said.
The state has activated 243 Army National Guard personnel.
The agency estimated that 400 people were evacuated from towns and rural areas along the Ohio River, and 37 people sought emergency shelter.
Many Indiana communities closer to Cincinnati, such as Aurora, began cleanup efforts with the help of National Guard. Others downriver toward Louisville prepared for the river to crest today.
Reporters John Eckberg, Dana DiFilippo, Laura Goldberg, Steve Kemme, Ben L. Kaufman and Sheila McLaughlin contributed to this article.