Kansas holds its breath

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WASHINGTON - The levees in Kansas City are holding, Congress is at last coughing up some money and the forecasters are finally predicting a spell of dry weather in the upper Midwest. But a challenge is looming: a combined monster crest of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers that this weekend will pose the greatest threat so far to the stretched defences of St Louis, writes Rupert Cornwell.

Meteorologists are optimistic that the weather pattern, which has dumped record quantities of rain on Minnesota, Iowa and Missouri this year, may be breaking. No rain is forecast for at least seven days.

Simultaneously, the House of Representatives has stopped squabbling and approved an initial dollars 3.1bn ( pounds 2.1bn) flood-relief package, clearing the way for swift passage in the Senate. President Clinton has indicated that the administration will ask for a further dollars 1bn at least, to cope with a disaster that has caused 43 deaths and driven 50,000 people from their homes. The final bill could reach dollars 12bn. But the worst did not happen in Kansas City, where on Tuesday the Missouri and its tributary, the Kansas river, converged in a record crest of 48.4 feet.

The danger, however, is not over, merely moving downstream towards St Louis. The combined Kansas/Missouri surge is expected to reach the city on Saturday or Sunday - the very moment that a new crest is due on the Mississippi itself, driven by last week's torrential rains upriver. The onslaught is expected to lift the water level to 48 feet, 18 feet above flood level and a foot higher than that 10 days ago.