The U.S. Census Bureau in Suitland was reported in a state of crisis yesterday following the unexplained flooding of its main computer room.

"We're completely dead in the water," said Daniel Levine, deputy director of the bureau.

He said about 2,000 computer jobs scheduled for processing yesterday didn't get done, and all the computers' work on Wednesday was lost when the four big machines shut down after the sprinkler system went off.

Levine said it may be necessary to furlough some workers.

It's "absolutely a crisis," he said, partly because the bureau is having difficulty arranging to run its data through someone else's computer.

Meanwhile, dehumidifiers, space heaters, hair dryers and air-conditioning units are being used in the computer room to dry out the electronic gear.

More than 100 boxes of complex wiring must be checked for water damage before the units can be put back in operation.

Levine said turning the computers back on without drying them thoroughly might "blow the whole system."

Bureau officials spent yesterday shopping for computer time because the August unemployment and balance-of-trade data must be processed within two weeks.

"Probably we can limp by for a week," Levine said. If the computers are down longer than that, the situation would take "a very steep curve down."

Levine said that so far the bureau has not found "compatible systems, in the federal government or the private sector, that have the capacity we require."

The most likely candidates are a private Univac system in the District or the Treasury Department's own Univac system.But Levine emphasized the shopping for computer time is made more difficult by legal requirements to keep the bureau's information confidential.

"We cannot share a time-sharing system with someone else," he noted. "We would have to bring in our data, and after finishing our period of time, clear out our data."

Citing the inconveniences and threats to confidentiality that such a procedure would entail, Levine said the Bureau is seeking a "total system" that it can use 24 hours a day.