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Homeland Security chief touring flooded RI

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Ron Chopoorian, a volunteer at Cranston League for Cranston's Future, a boys and girls youth organization, sweeps water out of the gymnasium, Friday, April 2, 2010, in Cranston, R.I. (AP Photo/Stew Milne) Ron Chopoorian, a volunteer at Cranston League for Cranston's Future, a boys and girls youth organization, sweeps water out of the gymnasium, Friday, April 2, 2010, in Cranston, R.I. (AP Photo/Stew Milne)

WARWICK, R.I. (AP) — Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano got a firsthand look at the flooding devastation in Rhode Island on Friday.

Napolitano and Federal Emergency Management Agency officials were touring flood-damaged areas and discussing response and recovery efforts with Gov. Don Carcieri and members of the state's congressional delegation.

A round of epic rainfall has touched off the worst flooding in the state in 200 years, according to the governor. While some people pumped out water-logged basements, shoveled mud or scrambled to hire heavy equipment operators to fill in washed-out sidewalks, others were left to ponder something more permanent — losing their jobs, perhaps for good.

For a hard-luck state with nearly 13 percent of its residents unemployed, the aftermath of the storm has added more woes.

While damage estimates can't be made until the floodwaters recede, Carcieri has said they could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

"Just when Rhode Island didn't think it could get hit by any more storms ... economically we've been hit by a storm that's perhaps surpassed any other state in the nation," said U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I.

State officials said they could give no estimate of the number of workers idled by closings.

Many small businesses were affected.

In downtown Westerly, the raging Pawcatuck River ran under a Route 1 bridge that links Westerly and Pawcatuck, Conn., prompting authorities to close it as a safety measure.

That cut off a building housing the In Store Avon Center, run by Julie Cofone, 52. She arrived Thursday morning to find yellow police tape blocking her from getting to the store, and a police officer telling her she couldn't cross.

"We've only been open four months," she said. "For us starting up, we were doing well our first few months. Then to have this all of a sudden. ... Hopefully, it's not going to be a major setback."

On the Westerly side, Sheila Fravesi, 53, owner of The Bean Counter coffee shop, was surveying the damage to inventory in her basement from river water that backed up into hers and other basements. Her shop lost electricity Tuesday, and the surging water lifted up refrigerators in her basement, spilling their contents.

"I'm going to be closed for a few days. That's my take for a few days. I've only got a couple of girls working for me, so it impacts their salary. They won't be able to work," she said.

At Bradford Printing, where they have been printing camouflage uniforms for the U.S. military for decades, the fear among the approximately 50 workers was that it might never reopen because of the 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 room manager. "We're certainly going to have a lot to look at when the water goes down. I don't want to make assumptions about what we'll see when that happens.

"I like to be optimistic, but it's quite a disaster," he said.

There were some bright spots around the state Thursday. The sun shone. A stretch of Interstate 95 reopened, as did state offices.

In Cranston, the city said it would extend a two-week grace period for property tax payments by homeowners and businesses, to April 30.

"That will allow people a chance to get another paycheck in, or to give businesses time to reopen so people can start earning money again," said Robin Schutt, director of administration for the city. The city also will waive fees for building permits for all flooding-related construction.

And under state law, employers forced to lay off workers temporarily because of the flooding can help them get unemployment insurance sooner by applying for a waiver with the Department of Labor and Training. The law waives a one-week waiting period for unemployment insurance if the unemployment is caused by natural disaster or state of emergency.

 

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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