What's next? Leaders work on game plan

By:  Emily Dupuis
Westerly Sun

State leaders and members of Rhode Island's congressional delegation are calling for federal aid for Rhode Island after surveying flood damage in parts of the state, including Westerly, on Thursday. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was in Rhode Island today, two days after President Barack Obama made an emergency declaration for the state.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, DR. I., who visited Westerly and Ashaway early Thursday evening, said the delegation asked for the secretary's aerial tour to include Westerly.

"We're trying to make sure we get as much federal attention as possible," he said, after walking the flooded grounds of Ashaway Line & Twine Manufacturing Company on Laurel Street. There, the Pawcatuck River swelled onto the 65-employee company's property and into its basement, the current strong enough to buckle part of the street and churn up large plates of concrete in the parking lot.

Whitehouse said assistance should be available to all parts of the state that have been affected, "even in areas where damage is less widespread."

"Nobody's overlooked because their community was less hard hit than West Warwick or Cranston," he said.

Gov. Donald L. Carcieri and J. David Smith, executive director of the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency, also toured parts of town, including Bradford, with local officials including Town Manager Steven Hartford, Council President Diana Avedesian and Westerly Police Chief Edward A. Mello. "Everyone's doing everything they can to try to pull together and help," Carcieri said, after viewing flooding at the Bradford Printing and Finishing plant on Route 91. He said he has been in talks with Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell about the closed Pawcatuck Bridge.

Sen. Dennis Algiere, RWesterly, said local officials have asked the governor to prioritize the two-state bridge's inspection and have also requested a FEMA presence in town.

"I am just so happy he took the time to come and see it for himself. We can use all the help we can get," said Town Manager Steven Hartford of the governor. Hartford, responding to residents' concerns about the safety of drinking water, said that Westerly water is safe for drinking.

"The water is being monitored closely," he said, "and pumps in the affected areas are not in use."

With five million gallons of water in storage and hourly tests being conducted, residents can feel secure about having enough and safe Westerly drinking water, Hartford said.

And Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts described her morning visit to the emergency shelter set up at the Westerly Senior Center in a televised news conference held Thursday afternoon.

She said she was impressed with the Red Cross and CERT Team volunteers, as well as families staying at the shelter, for "their courage and optimism in an incredibly difficult time." "We need to make sure after the waters recede we don't forget their needs," Roberts added.

Rep. Patrick Kennedy, DR. I., said he and the state's other federal delegates plan today to "make the strongest case possible" for federal aid and a commitment to long-term assistance. And he said it's important to make that "hard sell" at a time when Rhode Island remains in the national spotlight.

"The longer we delay, the less imperative and less urgency we'll have in getting federal dollars," Kennedy said, joined by Whitehouse and Rep. James Langevin, D-R.I.

Carcieri said state officials are not yet able to quantify the costs of damaged infrastructure and lost business from the storm, which he described as "kind of a kick in the teeth."

"People are going to be out of work, and we already have enough of that here in Rhode Island," the governor said.

Officials advised residents and business owners to record property damage with photographs, lists, receipts and high-water markings that can be used when they make claims.

For those in need, click here to register for FEMA disaster assistance or call 1-800-621-FEMA.

Sandra Powell, director of the state Department of of Labor and Training, said assistance including unemployment insurance relief and waiting period waivers will be available to businesses. Individuals who could not reach work because of flooding should also be eligible for unemployment, she said.