CUMBERLAND, R.I. – Three weeks ago, Ted Lemoi’s house was nearly surrounded by flooding caused by the Blackstone River. Water flowed into his finished basement, and he worked to bail it out as his wife, Liz, eight months pregnant, coped upstairs with contractions.

Since then, the Lemois have welcomed the new baby but had to face the reality of a destroyed basement: ruined walls and studs, furniture and a computer.

“To get it back to where it was, maybe $30,000,” he estimates. Insurance won’t pay for any of it, so on Friday, Lemoi signed the papers to receive a $27,000 federal disaster loan for a house they bought in January.

Lemoi is one of more than 22,000 residents and businesses that have applied for help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency since flooding in March and April, thought by Gov. Don Carcieri’s office to have caused $200 million in damage.

Many residents, businesses and the government still are trying to recover from the floods, figure out the extent of the damage, and decide what to do next. FEMA says it’s still helping more than 2,000 people who can’t return home, and U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan plans to visit Rhode Island on Monday, a trip that Sen. Jack Reed’s office said will remind the Obama administration of the long road ahead.

FEMA spokesman Leo Skinner said Friday that the agency has awarded $27.5 million in grants to 12,518 homeowners and renters hit by the flooding. He says FEMA is providing rental assistance for 2,227 people who can’t go home because of damage.

FEMA provides grants to individuals, but those who need more than what a grant can provide, and all businesses, must turn to the Small Business Administration. The SBA has received about 1,400 applications for help from residents and given out $7 million in low-interest loans to 327 of them as of the end of Thursday, spokesman Carl W. Sherrill said.

About 150 businesses so far have applied for help, and the SBA has given 24 of them a total of about $1.5 million in loans, he said. The deadline to apply is May 28.

Among the businesses badly hit by the flooding on the Blackstone was Hope Global, a 125-year-old textile company that makes products such as straps for automotive companies and shoelaces for the military. It employs about 300 people in its factory in Cumberland, and business is booming.

CEO Cheryl Merchant said the company is hiring about a dozen people every few weeks to keep up with demand as the economy recovers. That’s good news in Rhode Island, which has seen double-digit unemployment for more than a year and where the unemployment rate stood at 12.6 percent in March.

But the recent flooding caused $1 million in damage at Hope Global only five years after an earlier flood caused $6 million in damage. While production is back up after being down for a week, the signs of the flooding are everywhere, from waterlogged files stacked on the floor to gutted and empty rooms that smell of mildew.

Merchant is now running the numbers and meeting with city and state officials, as well as economic development officials from Massachusetts, to decide whether to repair the building or move elsewhere.

“I really want to stay, but as a business option, I’ve got to find out what is the best solution to protect the customers the shareholders and (employees),” she said.

She told Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Mayor Daniel McKee during a tour Friday that her building is now essentially worthless because of the threat of another flood.

But building a berm to protect the building could mean the difference between staying and moving to Massachusetts.

McKee points to a building across the street protected by an earthen berm, which he said spared it from the worst of the flooding.

“If it can be done there, it can be done here,” he said. “How hard do we want to protect 400 jobs?”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.