Troops may be sent to fight US floods: An awed Clinton promises more help for American heartland devastated by 'heart-rending' damage, as torrential rain keeps falling

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The Independent Online
WITH NO end in sight to a catastrophe which may cost up to dollars 10bn ( pounds 6.7bn), President Bill Clinton this weekend said he was considering sending troops to join the battle against the mighty Mississippi and Missouri, whose overflowing river systems have caused the worst Midwestern flooding in a century.

On his third journey to the region in less than a fortnight, a clearly awed Mr Clinton made clear to an emergency meeting of governors of nine states in St Louis that more financial and logistic help would be forthcoming - possibly including Pentagon military units to join the thousands of exhausted National Guardsmen, local residents and volunteers working to shore up crumbling levees along hundreds of miles of riverbank.

But even the most powerful man on earth cannot hold nature at bay. 'The level of damage is indescribable and heart-rending,' Leon Panetta, the budget director and the man who will have to find the extra money, said yesterday. 'This is a disaster which may go on for weeks.'

Cataclysmic quantities of rain are still falling across the US heartlands. Some districts of northern Wisconsin had a prodigious 12in on Saturday night. Hundreds of miles to the south, 5in fell in Pawnee County, Kansas. The forecast was of more heavy rain sweeping in from the south and west, at least until a possible clearing spell later in the week.

With intermittent storms and lightning searing the skies, great tracts of landscape, already overrun by the chocolate-brown waters, have been turned into a primeval re-run of the Creation. 'It's as if another Great Lake had been added to the map of the United States,' said Vice-President Al Gore, who accompanied Mr Clinton on Saturday, as he surveyed satellite photographs from along the Minnesota-Iowa border.

Such has been the continuing deluge that cities that thought they had seen the worst are now facing the threat of fresh flooding. In Iowa's capital, Des Moines, without drinking water for more than a week now, workers were busy repairing damaged levees protecting the city's business district before possible new surges on the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers. At Quincy, Illinois, the torrents have smashed though levees and closed the last bridge on a 200-mile stretch of the Mississippi north of St Louis.

Estimates of the damage mount inexorably, dwarfing the dollars 2.5bn aid which Mr Clinton is currently requesting from Congress. The governors of both Iowa and Missouri claim losses in each of their states alone of around dollars 3bn. The overall bill, some fear, may now be close to dollars 10bn - which would place the Great Flood of 1993 among the costliest natural disasters in US history, not far behind the dollars 14bn Midwestern drought of 1988, and the dollars 17bn devastation wrought by Hurricane Andrew last August.

Indeed, such figures are starting to cast a shadow over the entire national economy. Throughout the Midwest, commercial transport is in chaos. Relief to meet the scale of the disaster could well interfere with Mr Clinton's arduous efforts to slash the federal deficit. While promising that the government would do everything in its powers, the President pointedly warned he also had to 'maintain the discipline of the budget'.

By yesterday, 8 million acres of some of the world's most fertile agricultural land - an area equal to a quarter of England - were under water, and a further 12 million acres affected by the flooding. Some 1,100 miles of the Mississippi and Missouri have been closed, stranding 2,000 barges and costing the industry, at a standstill for weeks, up to dollars 3m a day. The floods have killed at least 27 people and forced evacuation of 30,000.

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