Flood officials get $125 million



DES MOINES, Iowa (AP)—Officials from nine flood-battered states on Thursday got a down payment of $125 million in aid and were told they probably won’t be asked to pay much of the massive cleanup costs.

Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros said another $125 million in aid would be sent within a month. As many as 55,000 homes were damaged by months of record flooding Cisneros described as ‘‘a rolling thunder kind of a disaster.’‘

Many state and local officials at a two-day flood summit were pressuring Clinton Administration officials to free them from a requirement that states pay as much as a fourth of the cleanup costs.

President Clinton has yet to decide whether to grant the waiver.

‘‘I’d be very surprised if he didn’t do it,’‘ Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy said.

‘‘There are some standards we are considering,’‘ Espy said. ‘‘Many of these states are about at that level.’‘

It’s a crucial issue for states and cities. Clinton has signed a $5.7 billion aid package, but local governments could be stuck with paying as much as a fourth of the cost while they are still reeling from summer-long flooding.

In Iowa alone the cost would exceed $100 million, Gov. Terry Branstad said. ‘‘It is just beyond what we can handle,’‘ Branstad said.

Kansas Gov. Joan Finney said states simply can’t afford the millions of dollars that would be required to pay a share of the cleanup bill. ‘‘State budgets are strapped,’‘ Finney said.

Officials from each state said serious problems remain.

‘‘We are at a critical point in our recovery,’‘ said Jack Porter, a city councilman in Des Moines, where more than 250,000 people lost safe drinking water for nearly three weeks last month.

The problem was aggravated by persistent flooding, which dampened economies and caused budget trouble in states throughout the region.

Estimates of the number of homes damaged in the nine states range from 45,000 to 55,000. Many of those will be torn down.

Floodwater that lingered for months turned minor damage into total destruction in thousands of cases, said Dennis Phillips of St. Louis, a regional head of the Salvation Army. A short-term problem of finding emergency housing has turned into a bigger headache of buying out and relocating flood victims, he said.

‘‘We have a whole new problem—people,’‘ Phillips said.

Of the 16,000 flooded homes in Missouri, at least 10,000 will have to be demolished, he said. FEMA spokesman Jack Hutson later said his agency had received 15,000 applications for temporary housing in Missouri, but there is no way yet to know how many home will need to be demolished.

Clinton opened the meeting with a videotaped message pledging to ‘‘cut the red tape to expedite federal funding.’‘

‘‘It will take months and years for the Midwest to fully recover from this tragedy,’‘ Clinton said. ‘‘We share their sense of urgency to restore their lives to normalcy.’‘

State and local officials from Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Wisconsin attended the session.

Donald W. Jones of the American Red Cross said there’s growing pressure on officials to solve housing problems because a Midwestern winter is coming.

‘‘In the St. Louis area, many people still haven’t gotten back into their communities,’‘ Jones said.

‘‘Seventy-five percent of these 55,000 people will need some kind of state or federal assistance,’‘ he said.

Joseph Steineger, mayor of Kansas City, Kan., added, ‘‘A lot of these people will never be able to go back to their homes.’‘