WASHINGTON -- President Reagan, having helped stack the sandbags in Ft. Wayne last week, designated flood-ravaged Indiana a major disaster area Saturday to make it eligible for federal assistance programs.
An estimated $20 million dollars in damage has been wrought in Fort Wayne and surrounding Allen County by rampaging rivers. Some 11,000 people were forced from their homes and farm crops were ruined.
Officials said Saturday the worst may be over as the rivers began falling from their high water marks.
As Reagan wrapped up a three-state speaking trip last Tuesday, he suddenly ordered his advance teams to Fort Wayne to prepare for a spur-of-the-moment visit to the flooded city. He had Air Force One, the presidential plane, fly low over the ravaged area on a sight-seeing sweep before landing.
Before citizens were aware what was happening, the president was standing in their midst, his dark suit buttoned, wearing borrowed rubber boots and helping them build a sandbag dike along the St. Mary's River. He lost one boot in the mud.
He later climbed onto a table in a Red Cross station to tell the evacuees living there they would be proud of the thousands of young volunteers helping hold the dikes.
Indiana Gov. Robert Orr and Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., had requested Reagan to declare the city and county as a federal disaster area.
The decision opens the way for residents, business concerns and governmental units to apply for federal funds for 'relief and recovery efforts,' the official statement said.