WARWICK, RI (AP) - Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano flewover flooded swaths of Rhode Island on Friday, calling the damagesignificant and saying she's considering a plea by officials foradditional federal aid for the economically battered state.
Some areas of the state were still under water after three daysof pounding rain throughout the Northeast this week sent riversoverflowing to record levels, hitting Rhode Island harder than anyother state.
The National Weather Service said it did not expect the Pawtuxet River, source of much of the flooding, togo below flood stage until at least Sunday.
President Barack Obama had already declared a disaster in muchof the state. That triggers some federal money, but the state isrequired to pick up some of the tab.
In a news conference with Napolitano on Friday, the state'scongressional delegation pressed for more federal help in the formof grants, rather than loans. Rep. Jim Langevin, whose district washardest hit, says families, individuals and businesses need thehelp as soon as possible.
The delegation had already sent Napolitano a letter asking thata major disaster declaration be extended to the entire state. Theyalso want the federal government to waive a requirement for thestate to pick up 25 percent of the costs of the disaster responseand to speed federal help to pay for ruined infrastructure.
Carcieri has said the worst flooding to hit the state in atleast 200 years might have caused hundreds of millions of dollarsin damage. U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I, said the state was incrisis and needed help.
"If there is a part of the country that needed federal support,it's Rhode Island. We were in the economic storm before anybodyelse. We've been in it longer, and now we've been hit with anotherstorm," he said Thursday.
Shopping malls, small businesses and mills are still under waterin the state, which has nearly 13 percent of its residentsunemployed. Kennedy said Rhode Islanders were wondering about whenthe devastation would end, and when they would get help.
One of those was Kenneth Guilmette, 60, who for 20 years workedat Bradford Printing and Finishing in Westerly. On Thursday, hewatched as gray water from the Pawcatuck River swirled aroundengulfed the 103-year-old textile mill, surrounding its brown brickbuildings and smokestack. In the distance, the roof of a submergedred Ford Mustang — left behind by someone in the rush to getout before floodwaters invaded — was barely visible.
Guilmette thought about the future of the mill, and his job asthird shift fireman in the boiler room.
"I worked here a long time, put a lot of sweat into the placemyself," he said Thursday morning. "To see it swamped like this isa terrible thing. A terrible thing. Especially just beforeretirement."
"I can tell you I'm sick to my stomach about it. I'm afraid. I'mafraid of losing my livelihood here," he said.
State officials said they could give no estimate of the numberof workers idled by closings, but many small businesses wereaffected.
In downtown Westerly, the raging Pawcatuck River ran under aRoute 1 bridge that links Westerly and Pawcatuck, Conn., promptingauthorities to close it as a safety measure.
That cut off a building housing the In Store Avon Center, run byJulie Cofone, 52. She arrived Thursday morning to find yellowpolice tape blocking her from getting to the store, and a policeofficer telling her she couldn't cross.
"We've only been open four months," she said. "For us startingup, we were doing well our first few months. Then to have this allof a sudden. ... Hopefully, it's not going to be a majorsetback."
On the Westerly side, Sheila Fravesi, 53, owner of The BeanCounter coffee shop, was surveying the damage to inventory in herbasement from river water that backed up into hers and otherbasements. Her shop lost electricity Tuesday, and the surging waterlifted up refrigerators in her basement, spilling theircontents.
"I'm going to be closed for a few days. That's my take for a fewdays. I've only got a couple of girls working for me, so it impactstheir salary. They won't be able to work," she said.
At Bradford Printing, where they have been printing camouflageuniforms for the U.S. military for decades, the fear among theapproximately 50 workers was that it might never reopen because ofthe flood damage.
"I don't want to say it's going to put us out of business,because it might not," said Dan Kenyon, 49, the boiler roommanager. "We're certainly going to have a lot to look at when thewater goes down. I don't want to make assumptions about what we'llsee when that happens.
"I like to be optimistic, but it's quite a disaster," hesaid.
Associated Press writers John Curran in Westerly, and EricTucker and Michelle R. Smith in Providence contributed to thisreport.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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