Video: Napolitano tours flood-ravaged R.I.

  1. Closed captioning of: Napolitano tours flood-ravaged R.I.

    >> them for you live.

    >>> janet napolitano getting a historic look at flooding in rhode island . it was hard hit by more rain this week, as much as 10 inches fell in some areas. this is leading to the worst in 200 years. rivers begin to recede. officials concerned about garbage and sewage flowing into rivers. i'm joined by secretary napolitano. great to have you. i understand you've been up in the air this morning. tell us what you've seen.

    >> you're right. the rivers have begun to recede. but the recovery issues are pretty evident. the wastewater treatment plants are down. they are going to need to be repaired and up and running so wastewater doesn't flow into the bay, the atlantic ocean . there's a lot of standing water around residences and businesses that are now shut down. we share some concern about bridges and dams that we saw. fortunately there's good things that happened. the water is receding. the highway, big interstate i-95 is now open. the other highways closed are basically open as well. access to the airport has been maintained. the runways never were flooded, so the air travel is unimpeded. so now we get to the work of cleaning up.

    >> i know you've been spending time this morning as well with state politicians there. tell me what you're hearing from them. are they getting everything they need?

    >> well, i'm about ready to leave this phone call and i'll go into a meeting with a number of mayors. the plain fact is fema has been on the ground since early this week supplying direct assistance to the towns in rhode island , either through the emergency operations centers. some of them had to open shelte shelters. we want to make sure we're in lock step with the people in rhode island as we begin the recovery.

    >> in the meantime the timing couldn't have been worse for people of rhode island as you know, of course. we're talking about a nearly 13% unemployment rate in that state. a lot of people worried about losing their jobs, income in the coming weeks.

    >> indeed. that's why moving this recovery along, getting those fema funds to the people of rhode island to the greatest extent that we can, i saw a number of places where the governor pointed out this place -- i would ask, how many people work there, 100 work there, 150 work there. they are not going to be able to work until the plant or building gets repaired and fixed. so this really plays into a state that has been particularly hard hit by the recession.

    >> madam secretary, while i have

updated 4/2/2010 1:46:21 PM ET 2010-04-02T17:46:21

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano flew over flooded swaths of Rhode Island on Friday, calling the damage significant and saying she's considering a plea by officials for additional federal aid for the economically battered state.

Some areas of the state were still under water after three days of pounding rain throughout the Northeast this week sent rivers overflowing to record levels, hitting Rhode Island harder than any other state.

The National Weather Service said it did not expect the Pawtuxet River, source of much of the flooding, to go below flood stage until at least Sunday.

President Barack Obama had already declared a disaster in much of the state. That triggers some federal money, but the state is required to pick up some of the tab.

In a news conference with Napolitano on Friday, the state's congressional delegation pressed for more federal help in the form of grants, rather than loans. Rep. Jim Langevin, whose district was hardest hit, says families, individuals and businesses need the help as soon as possible.

The delegation had already sent Napolitano a letter asking that a major disaster declaration be extended to the entire state. They also want the federal government to waive a requirement for the state to pick up 25 percent of the costs of the disaster response and to speed federal help to pay for ruined infrastructure.

Gov. Don Carcieri has said the worst flooding to hit the state in at least 200 years might have caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I, said the state was in crisis 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 anybody else. We've been in it longer, and now we've been hit with another storm," he said Thursday.

Shopping malls, small businesses and mills are still under water in the state, which has nearly 13 percent of its residents unemployed. Kennedy said Rhode Islanders were wondering about when the devastation would end, and when they would get help.

'A terrible thing'
One of those was Kenneth Guilmette, 60, who for 20 years worked at Bradford Printing and Finishing in Westerly. On Thursday, he watched as gray water from the Pawcatuck River swirled around engulfed the 103-year-old textile mill, surrounding its brown brick buildings and smokestack. In the distance, the roof of a submerged red Ford Mustang — left behind by someone in the rush to get out before floodwaters invaded — was barely visible.

Guilmette thought about the future of the mill, and his job as third shift fireman in the boiler room.

"I worked here a long time, put a lot of sweat into the place myself," he said Thursday morning. "To see it swamped like this is a terrible thing. A terrible thing. Especially just before retirement."

"I can tell you I'm sick to my stomach about it. I'm afraid. I'm afraid of losing my livelihood here," he said.

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

'It's quite a disaster'
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.

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