THE RIVERS and streams of central Appalachia are peaceful again, but for tens of thousands of families in West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and Alabama, the floods of early April have made the region a grim scene of homelessness and despair. In Mingo County, W. Va., isolated towns along the Tug Fork River have been totally destroyed. Harlan, Ky., saw 98 per cent of its boundaries flooded. Grindy, Va., was devastated. Relatively few lives were lost, but estimates of property losses begin at $250 million.

Such relief agencies as the Red Cross and the Salvation Army, and church and civic groups, have performed well in most stricken communities. Ford, clothing and counseling are available. But beyond survival, as an article on the opposite page details, is the question of recovery. Particularly challenging is the effort to fight through the confusion of paper-work and regulations in order to get federal aid. Former Rep. Ken Hechler has wired President Carter that "the army of federal officials sent to help are hamstringing the people and red tape, unrealistically outdated laws and bureaucratic decisions without citizen participation of smypathy towards life-styles and genu ine human needs."

Flood victims need a better deal than the 6 5/8 per cent interest rates now being offered on Small Business Administration loans. Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) is about to introduce legislation to lower the interest rate to 3 per cent for all loans applications and to 1 per cent for those severely hit. Such an amendment,used after hurricane Agnes, is needed.

The stout spirit of the people of Appalachia is unlikely to be broken by this latest disaster, but what isn't needed is more delay and confusion, much less harsh interest rates, from the officials supposedly trying to ease the suffering.