President Clinton took a helicopter tour of Midwest flood damage Wednesday, flying over submerged farms and homes as he prepared to unveil a $2.48 billion federal flood relief program.
Skies were heavily overcast, but there was no rain as Clinton's Marine One helicopter passed over flooded fields, railroad bridges and the contaminated water works. Streets below him disappeared into tracks of muddy water."It's very bad," Clinton said.
After the helicopter tour, Clinton went to a water distribution center and talked with people waiting in line with plastic jugs to collect drinking water.
It was Clinton's second visit to Iowa in 10 days. "He was shocked at how much worse it was in a week's time," White House chief of staff Mack McLarty told reporters.
McLarty said the administration would submit the aid package to Congress Wednesday afternoon.
White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers said the relief package would total $2.48 billion, double the $1.2 billion discussed earlier. But Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad said he doubted that would be enough. "The damage in the state of Iowa is probably going to exceed $1 billion," he said.
In Washington, Senate Republican Leader Bob Dole talked with Budget Director Leon Panetta and said he was "certainly willing to cooperate with the president" in pushing the aid package through Congress.
"We'll move it as quickly as we can so we can start getting relief to hundreds of thousands of people in the Midwest," Dole said. He said the aid was mainly for small businesses, agriculture and some housing assistance.
In the Midwest, efforts to restore drinking water to 250,000 Iowans survived the latest round of heavy rain, but another levee failed in Illinois, and a flash flood in Kansas swept cars into a heap, trapping members of one family.
Volunteers worked under floodlights during the night to pile sandbags around the flood-damaged Des Moines Water Works.
The bloated Raccoon and Des Moines rivers had stabilized Wednesday after a downpour Tuesday and missed the brunt of heavy rain overnight. New rain began falling in Des Moines at daybreak but was not serious enough to threaten new floods, forecasters said.
The Mississippi River ripped a 2,000-foot gap through a levee north of Quincy, Ill., during the night and quickly began covering about 9,000 acres of farmland, said Adams County emergency services director Leonard Schnellbecker. About 25 homes, 100 volunteers and 400 National Guard members were evacuated, but many residents already had left their homes in anticipation of the break, he said.
Only one levee remains unbreached in Adams County in west-central Illinois, Schnellbecker said. If that levee near south Quincy breaks, more than 800 residents and several businesses would be flooded, he said.
In southwest Kansas, Dodge City was especially hard hit Tuesday night, with flash flooding on low-lying streets sweeping about 15 cars and temporarily trapping a woman and two small children inside a sedan. Rescuers had to break the car's windows to get them out. As much as 5 inches of rain fell and wind hit 74 mph at the Dodge City airport.
Clinton has declared 222 Midwestern counties - including the entire state of Iowa - and the city of St. Louis disaster areas, opening the door to grants, low-interest loans and other federal aid. And Wednesday, Nebraska Gov. Ben Nelson asked Clinton for federal disaster help for 29 Nebraska counties and the Omaha Indian reservation.
Lack of drinking water continued to be a key problem in Des Moines, but at least the city water plant was spared further damage Tuesday. Military helicopters delivered about 100,000 sandbags to protect it from rising floodwaters.
With no water pressure, firefighters had to haul water from a duck pond Wednesday morning to fight a suspicious fire at a Des Moines printing business. There were no injuries.
"It is absolutely as serious as it possibly can be," Fire Chief Charles Morgan said. "There's only one fire suppression tool and that's water."
The flooding has been blamed for at least 21 deaths, 13 in Missouri. Damage has been put in the billions. About 6,500 National Guardsmen were on duty in Iowa, Illinois and Missouri, where more than 30,000 people have been flooded out of their homes.