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DOWNPOURS DISMAY MIDWEST

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Overnight downpours worsened flooding anxiety in the waterlogged Midwest, tempering joy over being able to wash dishes, take showers and flush toilets after 12 days without running water.

"I'm the guy wearing the black hat today. I can't tell you everything is going to be better," forecaster Joe Sullivan of the National Weather Service said. "The air over the Midwest right now is like a giant sponge, just dripping wet."Thunderstorms hit parts of Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and the Dakotas overnight. With more water keeping rivers at record levels, engineers worried that hundreds of miles of soggy levees could collapse.

"The heaviest rains overnight occurred in eastern Nebraska, northwest Missouri and southwest and southern Iowa," weather service meteorologist Bruce Terry said today in Camp Springs, Md.

"We have satellite estimates of up to almost 10 inches of rain that occurred in these areas and we've actually got confirmed reports that some spots received as much as six or seven inches overnight."

Hard rains continued this morning, bringing flash flood warnings in three northwest Missouri counties, and one county in southwest Iowa. People living along the Platte River lowlands in parts of Nebraska were urged to seek higher ground.

Still, the mood was high among some 250,000 people in Des Moines and its suburbs, where running water was fully restored by Thursday night. Floodwaters knocked out the city's water plant on July 11. It was the longest such ordeal for so big a U.S. city.

"Dishes. That will be the first thing I do," said Debbie Dodge, who had a stack awaiting in the kitchen.

Suzann Reynolds planned to start potty training for her 2-year-old daughter, Ashley, who decided in the past week she no longer wanted to wear diapers. "Now we'll learn how to flush the toilet," she said.

Downtown businesses were allowed to reopen as well, allowing Des Moines to get back to work.

The water will not be safe to drink, however, for three weeks.

"We're not clear over the hump yet, but we've certainly made a dent in our dilemma," Mayor John "Pat" Dorrian said.

Flooding since the start of June has been blamed for at least 33 deaths and $10 billion in damage in the Midwest. Some 16,000 square miles of farmland are under water. More than 32,000 homes have been damaged, the Red Cross es-ti-ma-ted.

President Clinton declared parts of Kansas a disaster area Thursday, making it the eighth state in the region eligible for emergency aid.

But a $3 billion relief bill was held up in Congress because of disputes in the House over how to pay for it. It wasn't clear when a vote would be held.

The Mississippi River is at a "flat, broad crest" for more than 200 miles from Grafton, Ill., to Cape Girardeau, Mo., and is not expected to change much over the next few days, said Tom Dietrich, a weather service hydrologist in St. Louis.

Another crest moving along the Missouri River is expected to reach Kansas City, Mo., in two to three days. "What it will do here we're not sure yet," said Bill Groth, a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers.