Rhode Island Town Hopes For Help Mopping Up

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Federal officials are considering more disaster relief for soggy Rhode Island. Residents of the town of Coventry are just beginning to assess the damage from record-breaking rainfall that flooded hundreds of homes, businesses and roads.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Federal officials are considering more disaster relief for soggy Rhode Island.

Elisabeth Harrison of member station WRNI reports from the town of Coventry that residents are just beginning to assess the damage from record-breaking rainfall that flooded hundreds of homes, businesses and roads.

(Soundbite of rain)

ELISABETH HARRISON: More than 200 people were evacuated this week because there were fears that a bridge just upstream from where I'm standing was going to collapse. Safety officials have determined that the bridge is not going to wash away just yet. But residents here are still struggling in the aftermath of some of the worst flooding in Rhode Island's history.

Ken Young stands ankle-deep in water that's still lapping at his backdoor. A motorcycle hangs from the branches of a nearby tree, pushed there by flood waters that crested 21 feet above normal level.

Mr. KEN YOUNG: The river came through the back windows of the house and pretty much came out the front windows.

(Soundbite of banging)

HARRISON: Young is one of thousands of Rhode Islanders whose lives have been turned inside out by this disaster. Three days after the rains stopped, fire crews were still pumping out hundreds of basements and few residents have insurance. More than 3,000 people have already applied for federal emergency loans. Entire shopping malls remain submerged.

Secretary JANET NAPOLITANO (Department of Homeland Security): I've flown(ph) quite a few floods, and this is a bad flood.

HARRISON: Federal Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano surveyed the damage Friday from a helicopter. She promised the federal government would help.

Sec. NAPOLITANO: I have designated an individual as an official to stay here on the ground after I leave to make sure that we are working closely and that I am kept personally informed of our progress.

HARRISON: But state officials fear that won't be enough. Rhode Island has already been crippled by double digit unemployment for a year and municipal budgets are straining under state cuts.

Governor Don Carcieri isn't sure the state can pick up its share of a tab likely to reach hundreds of millions of dollars.

Governor DON CARCIERI (Republican, Rhode Island): We need help here. Weve been, you know, trying to get through the recession as it is with 73,000 people out of work. It looked like it had stabilized and we had two good months where we actually were showing some job growth. So yeah, this is kind of a kick in the teeth.

HARRISON: And the worst problems may be still to come. Wastewater treatment plants dumped millions of gallons of untreated sewage into Narragansett Bay and several facilities are still not at 100 percent.

Joel Burke from the Warwick Sewage Authority.

Mr. JOEL BURKE (Warwick Sewage Authority): There is a million dollar emergency generator sitting there underwater. It's pretty grim. I've stopped crying about it. I've got to get to work.

HARRISON: Residents are trying to do the same. The waters have receded from around Patty Leone's home. But after the last week, she's not taking anything for granted.

Ms. PATTY LEONE: Plan B is to get in the canoe with my backpack and go down river.

HARRISON: Leone is keeping a close eye on the weather. So far it's supposed to be dry through the weekend.

For NPR News, I'm Elisabeth Harrison in Providence.

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