WARWICK, R.I. — The spring flooding that swept through Rhode Island and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage should serve as a lesson for local and state government and residents to get ready for the next disaster, several officials said Tuesday during a meeting of the state’s Emergency Management Advisory Council.

“We need to use this event as an alarm that we need to prepare, and prepare for much more,” said Paul Annarumo of the state Department of Transportation, which in April had to close Interstate 95 for the first time since the Blizzard of ’78.

Maj. Gen. Robert Bray, head of the Rhode Island National Guard, pointed out that hurricane season is right around the corner.

“We need to take into account the lessons learned here and make sure we’re even better prepared,” he said.

Every town and city in Rhode Island has applied for aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Lawrence Macedo of the state Emergency Management Agency. Gov. Don Cariceri’s office has placed a preliminary estimate of the damage at $200 million, and Macedo said it was still too early to say what the final total might be.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Warwick Mayor Scott Avedesian estimated $22 million to $26 million in damage to his city’s infrastructure, including at the wastewater treatment plant and an animal shelter. In West Warwick, the damage is estimated at $15 million, said Town Manager James Thomas. Coventry Town Manager Tom Hoover said his town is asking for $13 million in federal assistance.

Officials from smaller towns complained they did not receive as much help as they would have liked from the state or federal government. Bob Johnson of the Exeter Town Council said his small, rural community uses volunteer firefighters, many of whom missed work to help in the flood. But he was surprised to learn there was no way to reimburse them for the work they missed.

“Without volunteer firefighters, I don’t know who Exeter would have called. There was nobody to come and help us,” he said. “Yet the message back to them was, ‘Thank you, but we’re not going to pay you for the time off.”‘

Looking ahead, Hoover said towns must do a better job of planning development so buildings are not put in the path of future floods. He estimates there are about a dozen structures in Coventry that won’t be habitable again, and one of the town’s fire stations was so badly flooded that it will take six months to repair it.

“We have to keep a much closer eye on where we place structures in the town. There are places where people won’t be able to return,” he said.

Among the issues that arose during the storm was the safety of the state’s dams. Four dams were breached during the flooding and many more were close to breaching, said Terry Gray, assistant director of the Department of Environmental Management.

The department has just one dam-safety inspector. That usually isn’t a problem, but it was when 42 dams needed to be inspected amid the flooding, he said.

The good news is that the water quality in Narragansett Bay appears fine, despite the deluge.

“We have no expectation that there are any long-term impacts on the bay,” Gray said. “We’ve seen it return back to normal conditions fairly quickly.”


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