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Clinton May Send Troops To Inundated Midwest

NO relief was in sight after six weeks of the worst flooding in the United States this century, as storms dumped as much as five inches of rain across parts of the Midwest.

President Clinton said Saturday on his third visit to the area that he may send in federal troops.

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The flooding blocked a key bridge Saturday, turning the Mississippi River into a 200-mile-long wall blocking east-west traffic. Heavy rains fell in Iowa, the Dakotas, Minnesota, Illinois, and as far west as Wyoming.

"It's economic devastation for the entire area," groaned Mayor Richard Schwartz of Hannibal, Mo., near the West Quincy, Mo., levee that failed Friday, despite six weeks of work.

Flooding has been blamed for 27 deaths and more than $5 billion in damage, with more than 10 million acres of farmland submerged. Bridges, roads, and rail lines were shut, disrupting cargo shipments.

In Glasgow, Mo., the Army Corps of Engineers tried to rebuild a broken levee to keep the Missouri River from cutting a new channel and changing course. In Des Moines, National Guardsmen and others rushed to shore up an eroded levee, and hundreds of homes and businesses were evacuated.

Flash flooding struck sparsely populated areas of the eastern Dakotas. In northeastern South Dakota, a flood warning was posted for the James River, after an area that got three inches of rain Friday got that much more Saturday.

At a meeting in a St. Louis suburb, Clinton told eight state governors and a representative of a ninth that he was considering sending in federal troops - as was done after Hurricane Andrew - to help 7,300 National Guard troops now on duty.

Nearby, sandbaggers worked to avert flooding where the Mississippi and Meramec rivers meet. Crests on both rivers were expected there in the next couple of days.

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The Des Moines River carved a 50-foot-wide chunk from a levee near Des Moines. The National Guard and other workers shored up the gap with sand, gravel, downed trees, and plastic sheeting. An evacuation order covering about 700 homes and businesses was scaled back Saturday as the levee was being stabilized. The crisis did not affect efforts to restore running water to 250,000 people in the Des Moines area who went without for a seventh day. The water plant is in another part of town. One of its three pum ps was flown back to the plant Saturday.

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