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Tiny Rhode Island also feeling big Irene impact

More than 81,000 power customers in Rhode Island were still without electricity, and many were also without water because of a reliance on electric pumps.
This tree at an apartment complex in Warwick, R.I., was one of many that Irene took down across the state, causing widespread power outages.Stew Milne / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Christine Lachapelle said her neighbors are growing desperate three days after Tropical Storm Irene knocked out power across much of Rhode Island.

For three days the Pawtucket, R.I. woman has cooked dinner on an outside grill for those who lost power and water service. First, she grilled the steaks thawing in her freezer, which otherwise would have spoiled. Tuesday, she stocked up on hamburger and hot dogs. Wednesday, she was in line at a Red Cross station to get as many water bottles as she could carry for her neighbors, many of whom are poor, with little money, no cars and limited English.

"There's no help for these people," Lachapelle told The Associated Press. "There's no water, no electricity. I had a woman knocking on my door this morning asking if I had water. It's really getting worse."

Red Cross volunteers handed out food and water Tuesday to more than 500 people in Glocester. The Red Cross returned Wednesday with more supplies for the many residents of northwest Rhode Island still without electricity or water. Many in the area rely on wells powered by electricity.

Slightly more than 81,000 of National Grid's 480,000 electrical customers in the state lacked power as of Wednesday evening, the utility reported. That's down from a peak of 330,000 at the height of the storm. Some customers may have to wait until Monday to get their power back, utility spokesman David Graves said.

More than 1,000 workers are in the field trying to restore power, and more out-of-state crews are coming, Graves said. Utility workers from Idaho, Michigan and Texas have traveled to Rhode Island to pitch in.

Downed trees continue to pose problems, Graves said, but all the utility's transmission lines and 22 substations have been restored.

Gilbert George of Glocester has been without power since Sunday morning. He said he expects to be one of the last utility customers to regain power because he lives in a relatively rural area farther from the state's populous cities. George, who is retired, picked up six water bottles from the Red Cross on Wednesday. He would've taken more, but the Red Cross is rationing its supplies.

"Imagine if it had been a bad hurricane," George said. "I don't care about the TV. I just want my water back."

Officials in Exeter opened the Exeter-West Greenwich High School locker rooms to residents looking to take a shower.

Gov. Lincoln Chafee on Wednesday toured sites hit hard by power outages and announced a $500,000 loan fund to help businesses affected by the storm. Businesses are eligible for 5 percent interest loans in increments as small as $10,000 to help them repair or replace equipment damaged by Irene. The loans will be handled by the state's Economic Development Corporation.

"Although we in Rhode Island were fortunate to avoid any loss of life, there is no doubt that Irene took a toll on businesses throughout the state," Chafee said in a statement. "These funds will help small businesses that sustained damage or had their services interrupted by the storm get back on their feet as soon as possible."

For some residents, the return of electricity can be almost as jarring as the outage itself. When Lachapelle arrived home from the Red Cross station, she found her own power had been restored.

"I came into the house and I hear this awful noise," she said. "My kids had the TV on."