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Bush Surveys Flood Damage in US Midwest

U.S. President George Bush is in the Midwest state of Iowa surveying flood damage from heavy rains that have washed out millions of hectares of grazing and farmlands. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

President Bush went to Iowa's second-largest city of Cedar Rapids for a briefing from local and federal officials at an emergency command center where relief efforts are being coordinated.

"Obviously to the extent that we can help immediately, we want to help and then plan for recovery," he said.

Much of Cedar Rapids was submerged by the Cedar River, which crested nearly seven meters above flood levels. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) says it has distributed more than three million liters of drinking water and 200,000 ready-to-eat meals.

President Bush told reporters that Americans across the nation are concerned about those facing the region's worst flooding in 15 years.

"Our hearts and prayers from around the nation go out to people here," he added. "It is a tough time for you. The good news is the people of Iowa are tough-minded people. You will come back better."

President Bush said federal and local officials will not only focus on population centers like Cedar Rapids, but will also reach out to smaller towns affected by the flood.

Mr. Bush had an aerial tour of the floodwater and also visited the college town of Iowa City. It is the president's first tour of the Midwest since flooding forced at least 35,000 people from their homes in six states.

The president was in Europe when heavy rains began forcing rivers over their banks and levees. He has received regular briefings on the recovery effort and says $4 billion in a federal emergency relief fund should be enough to help pay for the clean up.

In addition to property damage, the floods have affected some of the nation's most fertile cropland, and are expected to have an impact on already rising food prices, especially for crops like corn.

Both of the major parties' likely presidential candidates have also visited the flood zone. Presumptive Republican candidate Arizona Senator John McCain toured Iowa separately from the president. The likely Democratic nominee, Illinois Senator Barack Obama, helped fill sandbags several days ago in his home state.