President Clinton came here tonight, after stops in Washington and Oregon, to view flood damage to the Pacific Northwest. Mostly he heard compliments for the federal government's disaster relief effort.

Although the president's trip was not billed as a political one, it displayed some of his ability to show empathy and compassion while using the perks of his office to full advantage.

In Boise, he promised $4.5 million in federal relief aid and said he was troubled by the "alarming number" of places that have experienced severe floods in the past seven years. He said the damage in Washington and Oregon probably would be between $600 million and $700 million. Officials said damage in Idaho would exceed $100 million.

"We want to do everything we legally can as fast as we can," he told residents of the flood-ravaged town of Woodland, Wash., where townsfolk and state officials lauded the fast action of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The president, wearing a plaid shirt, cowboy boots and blue jeans, offered more federal aid and lots of empathy for families along the swollen Columbia River.

"Mr. President, no one has responded to us like you have," said Washington Gov. Mike Lowry (D) before Clinton announced that the government would be sending $38.4 million more in disaster aid to Washington and $22.3 million to Oregon.

"We'll have to do a lot more," Clinton promised, suggesting that floods this year have so depleted FEMA's funds that he will have to seek a supplemental appropriation to cover the costs.

FEMA Director James Lee Witt, the Arkansas appointee who has revived the standing of the once-discredited agency, told reporters "it has been a tough year." Portions of 10 states have been declared flood disaster areas this year, and Washington state was twice declared a disaster. "They've really been hit, a double whammy up there," Witt said.

The president himself seemed stunned by the flood damage he has seen since taking office. "There are a lot of places in our country where in the last five years, they've had two 100-year floods," he said as he visited a neighborhood of flooded homes. "It has something to do with global warming."

Some of Woodland's 2,500 residents told of neighbors who had helped each other during the flooding. "Let's not forget that the country is made up of Woodlands," Clinton told his audience, recalling his small-town origin.

In a speech at Portland's downtown waterfront, Clinton expanded his praise of government workers beyond FEMA to include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who used night-vision goggles to stand watch over dikes at the height of the flooding; National Guard troops, who dropped hay from helicopters to stranded cattle; and Marines who helped city officials build a seawall along the Columbia River that helped prevent downtown flooding.

The president also praised Portland residents who built a river wall, saying: "I hope you will remember what the people of Portland did in one remarkable day. . . . If we had that type of cohesion {elsewhere}, we'd be in remarkable shape."

Lowry said the floods probably are the most expensive natural disaster in Washington's history; total damage is estimated at $300 million. He said 2,600 homes were flooded and dozens of bridges destroyed. Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) has placed his state's losses at $400 million in what is described as the worst flooding in the region in 32 years. Red Cross officials said as many as 2,000 families may still be homeless in Washington, Oregon, Montana and Idaho.

The president was to visit Pennsylvania on Friday to view flood damage there. CAPTION: President Clinton surveys area flooded by the Columbia River in southern Washington state.