A battered Rhode Island watches as the water rises
CRANSTON, R.I. (AP) – A record-shattering rainstorm hammered the Northeast on Tuesday, delivering widespread flooding for the second time this month and unleashing particular havoc in Rhode Island, a tiny coastal state already beleaguered by a sagging economy and backbreaking unemployment rate.
The storm soaked all corners of what is known as the Ocean State, pushing rivers over their banks, closing roads and schools, and requiring hundreds of people to evacuate, including by boat. The rain finally tapered off by Tuesday afternoon but resumed in Providence by evening, with officials bracing for what is expected to be the most severe flooding to hit the state in more than 100 years.
As flood waters began to sweep through first floors in some areas, rivers from Maine down to the New York area weren’t even expected to crest until today or Thursday.
“None of us alive have seen the flooding that we are experiencing now or going to experience,” Rhode Island Gov. Don Carcieri said Tuesday night. “This is unprecedented in our state’s history.”
The rain came as residents were still recovering from a storm two weeks ago that dumped as much as 10 inches on the region and led President Barack Obama to declare a major disaster in all but one Rhode Island county. Business owners in the flood zone are still grappling with the impact of lost income.
“It’s definitely devastating,” said liquor store owner Maria Medeiros, whose family-owned business in Providence now abuts raging rapids of water and streets barricaded by the police. “Situations like this, what can you do?”
Across the street, workers in a Blockbuster video store scrambled to raise DVDs to top shelves to avoid any damage.
Carcieri last week cited what he called the state’s “fragile economic climate” and an estimated $220 million state budget deficit when he asked Obama to declare a federal disaster. The state’s unemployment rate has hovered for months around 13 percent and has long been among the highest in the nation.
“Rhode Island’s state and local governments have scant financial resources to support a robust recovery effort,” Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse wrote in asking Obama to extend the disaster to all of Rhode Island and also to make a federal emergency declaration.
Obama issued an emergency declaration late Tuesday for the state, ordering federal aid for disaster relief and authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate relief efforts.