In wake of Sandy, R.I. receives federal aid

Contributing Writer
Thursday, November 15, 2012


When Hurricane Sandy ripped through New England Oct. 28 and 29, Rhode Island was left with close to $5.6 million of damages, the majority of which was concentrated in Newport, Bristol, Washington and Kent Counties. 

According to the National Grid, around 2,600 residents lost power that Monday morning, primarily in Bristol County, and many homes and businesses were destroyed. Sandy also damaged roads, sea walls and government buildings.

Gov. Lincoln Chafee ’75 P’14 has requested and received aid from the federal government to begin cleanup efforts in four counties, but he may request more as new information about damages continues to be reported.

Immediately following the storm, Chafee requested $3 million for emergency highway repairs in the state. He stated in a press release that President Obama was “swift” to deliver the necessary funds. “Some of our most important infrastructure – including sea walls – was damaged in the storm,” he said. “This federal funding will help us take quick action to begin these projects and put Rhode Islanders to work.”

The emergency funding was “only the first step in the difficult process” of recovering from the hurricane, said Victor Mendez, the federal highway administrator, in a press release. 

Current damage assessments have driven the cost up to nearly $5.6 million, but Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., said there are more to consider before the state can arrive at a final tally. “State disaster system teams are still working very close together in terms of calculating the cost of the damage and recovery,” Langevin said. 

The aid was first requested for Newport, Bristol and Washington counties, which were hit hardest by the storm.

Chafee announced Nov. 10 that a fourth county, Kent, would also receive federal assistance. In addition to repairing infrastructure, the aid targets those who were forced from their homes or to shut down their business. “It’s going to be a long road,” Langevin said. “There was significant damage in the South County area.”  

But Langevin said small businesses hit hardest in the area hope to reopen soon. “It’s amazing how resilient they are. There is great optimism,” he said.

During the hurricane, there was an impressive response from local residents and emergency staff, who continue to work on repairs in its aftermath. “First responders, from day one, were doing everything they could to make sure people were safe,” Langevin said. 

Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency Director Theresa Murray thanked government staff in a press release for their tireless efforts to calculate damages so the state could receive federal aid quickly. “Our goal is to get as much assistance for Rhode Island as possible,” she said.

Langevin said the storm highlighted the need to draw more attention to global climate change, which many meteorologists are pointing to as the cause of Hurricane Sandy. “These types of storms are going to be more severe and more frequent until we deal with climate change,” he said. “Representing a coastal community, this has me worried, and we need to redouble our efforts.”

Rhode Island also experienced significant change in landscapes near the ocean, with beaches washed out and coastal highways damaged. “A lot of erosion has taken place … We’re still calculating structural damage to see where people can rebuild,” Langevin said. “There will be some long-term relocations as a result.”