VOLUNTEERS working under floodlights piled sandbags around the Des Moines Water Works overnight Tuesday in order to prevent another washout, which could undo efforts to get the treatment plant running again for some 250,000 Iowans.
More downpours further swelled the raging Mississippi River and its tributaries across the flood-ravaged Midwest on Tuesday.
President Clinton 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.
The president cut short a visit to Hawaii to tour the flood-stricken region yesterday.
Late Tuesday, military helicopters delivered about 100,000 sandbags to protect the Des Moines water plant, which is under repair. Rising flood waters from at least an inch of rain threatened the plant again. Hundreds of volunteers sandbagged.
Flood waters had knocked out the plant on Sunday, contaminating its filters and pumps. Until the plant is repaired and disinfected, some 250,000 people are relying on bottled water distributed at 60 centers in and around the city.
Water Works officials said running water for showers and toilets should be available by the weekend, but clean drinking water is a month away. L. D. McMullen, manager of the plant, said it should resume pumping water by Sunday - "unless we are washed out a second time." The chance of rain was put at 30 percent today.
Heavy rain also fell Tuesday in saturated parts of Kansas and Nebraska. Wood River, Neb., got 3.3 inches of rain, and an inch fell in just six minutes at Papillion, south of Omaha, Neb., the National Weather Service said. Adel, Iowa, about 20 miles west of Des Moines, reported 1.75 inches in 20 minutes.
About 3,500 people in West Des Moines and Des Moines were urged to evacuate after rain swelled the Raccoon River. Most obeyed. "We're hoping and praying these rains slow down a little bit," said Mayor Kenny Carr of Eddyville, Iowa, about 60 miles southeast of Des Moines. "The water is at the top of the levee now. It's an especially scary situation."
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.
The flooding and the loss of the treatment plant brought Des Moines to a standstill. Businesses closed. Hotels were emptied. Hospitals canceled nonemergency surgery.
The Pentagon is providing the stricken region with at least 1,000 life vests, drinking water, and millions of sandbags. Businesses and individuals around the country sent bottled water, food, and pre-mixed baby formula.
At Gregory Landing, Mo., it was hard to tell the level of the river because the Army Corps of Engineers' water gauges were underwater, said Jim Murray of the agency's Rock Island, Ill., office.