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Damage estimates in the flood-stricken Midwest mounted with each fallen levee and swamped community, far outstripping the nearly $2.5 billion in emergency relief offered by President Clinton.

"We know the figures have gone up," Iowa Gov. Terry Brandstad said.Clinton, who cut short a Hawaiian vacation to visit Des Moines, Iowa, on Wednesday, told victims to "hang in there" and said he would ask Congress for nearly $2.5 billion. He said he would probably increase his request in the next few days when better damage estimates are available.

State and local officials put the damage at nearly $5 billion in eight states Wednesday, including more than $1 billion in Iowa alone.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said the damage will exceed that caused by Hurricane Andrew, which ravaged southern Florida last year. Roughly $9 billion in aid was provided after that hurricane.

The president said he was aghast at the flooding. "I have seen whole towns flooded, but I have never seen anything on this scale before," he said after his helicopter passed over fields and streets that vanished in the muddy water.

Heavy rain Wednesday worsened the flooding, and sand-baggers in Des Moines fought to keep more water from thwarting efforts to repair the city's crippled water treatment plant. There was a chance of rain Thursday throughout the region.

The flooding has been blamed for at least 22 deaths, 13 in Missouri. 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.

The tally of broken levees along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers continued to rise, and lesser waterways also spilled over their banks.

A mile-long levee 34 feet high was all that kept a river from pouring into the 10-block historic district in Hannibal, Mo., that includes Mark Twain's boyhood home. Volunteers heaped sand and plywood on the brick wall.

In Iowa, where floodwaters knocked out the water works over the weekend, leaving 250,000 people without running water, hundreds of volunteers responded to the call for help, many with their own shovels, water jugs and sandwiches.

"That's Iowans for you," Des Moines policeman S.G. Silver said. "They'll do anything to get their water back. They might argue over the back fence, but they'll join hands here."

"It's my civic duty," said Trelen Wilson, a computer programmer. "And besides, it's fun."

On Wednesday, the pressure eased on Des Moines' water distribution efforts as residents collected rainwater in everything from pots and buckets to garbage cans and plastic swimming pools.

The National Guard offered free showers - cold ones - at Camp Dodge, north of Des Moines. More than 4,000 people a day lined up.

David Tschantz said he spent an hour and 20 minutes - an hour in line; 18 minutes undressing, drying and dressing and a mere 2 minutes under the ice cold water.

"I'm not going back," he said. "Not that I'm not grateful. Not that they weren't nice. But that waiting in line is for the birds."

In Missouri, the Salvation Army had 16 mobile field kitchens open between St. Louis and the Iowa line, serving 14,000 meals daily. The effort was dubbed Operation Noah's Ark.

Florida shared its Hurricane Andrew experience with Iowa, sending three investigators to advise officials in flooded areas on how to combat price gouging.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Postal Service said that while neither snow nor rain nor gloom of night can keep die-hard letter carriers from their appointed rounds, flooding has forced nine post offices in Iowa and 24 in Missouri and Illinois to evacuate. The mail was being delivered from temporary distribution points.



Proposed flood-aid package

- $800 million, including stand-by support, to be used to provide disaster relief to businesses and individuals.

- $900 million to reimburse farmers for crop losses. This would be in addition to $100 million the president released on July 4.

- $100 million for road and bridge repairs.

- $153 million to be administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development for disaster-related community development and rehabilitation of damaged low-income housing.

- $100 million for economic redevelopment administered by the Commerce Department's economic development administration.

- $65 million to the Army Corps of Engineers to make emergency repairs to dams and other flood control facilities.

- $45 million to the Agriculture Department to support watershed and flood prevention programs.

- $300 million in increased disaster loans for the Small Business Administration.

- $4 million to the Department of Health and Human Resources to support public health efforts dealing with the flooding.

- $5 million to support Coast Guard efforts related to the flood.