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Rhode Island sees record rain, flooding

Little damage to campus buildings

Record flooding hit Rhode Island last week after heavy rains, but it caused only minor damage to University buildings.

The Department of Facilities Management received nearly 200 service calls last week during Rhode Island's worst flooding in 200 years, but "there were no severe damages" to University facilities, said Director of Custodial Services Donna Butler.

Butler, who began preparing to clean up after the storm several days before it hit, described the rain as the "biggest test" she has encountered during the 10 years she has worked for Custodial Services.

The flood was also "the best test" of her office's equipment, resources and emergency response, she said. "If there's another flood, now we know we're ready," she said.

President Barack Obama issued an emergency declaration for the flood-damaged state, which authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate all relief efforts. The federal government will be picking up 75 percent of the clean-up tab, according to a March 30 White House press release.

The record rainfall is another setback for the economically struggling state, whose 12.7 percent unemployment rate is the third highest in the country, trailing Michigan and Nevada, according to a March 26 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The rain was heavier and lasted longer than Butler had anticipated, but University facilities saw only minor damages due to "rock-solid construction" and the University's elevated location on College Hill, she said. "We were very fortunate," she said.

The University of Rhode Island's campus saw "significant damage" due to erosion and flooding, Jerry Sidio, URI's director of facilities services, told the Good Five Cent Cigar, the school's newspaper.

Classes on the Kingston campus were cancelled for two days due to the storm.

While Brown students were scattered across the country during spring break, University custodial employees worked long shifts and overtime — amounting to 10 to 12 hours straight — to keep water at bay in the basements of the John Carter Brown Library, 37 Manning St. and the John Hay Library, which houses rare books and manuscripts, Butler said. 

Custodial workers continually vacuumed affected basement floors as water seeped in. "The faster you respond, the less travelling there is. Fortunately our staff got there very quickly. There was a great response from our employees," she said.

"Once you fill those (wet-vacuum) machines with water, it can be extremely heavy, but our employees did a great job. Everyone had a positive attitude," she said.

Catching leaks with cups
The flood put 4,000 Rhode Islanders temporarily out of work and cost hundreds of millions of dollars in damage, the Associated Press reported April 2.
But for most students who remained on campus during spring break, the rain was only a nuisance.
Hadizza Mohammed '10, a Chicago native, planned to explore Rhode Island with her friends during her last spring break before graduation, but the rain put a damper on their plans.
"We couldn't really travel because of the rain. We ended up staying in, sleeping and eating a lot, watching movies, and playing a lot of Cranium. We ended up having fun," she said.
Mohammed said she first realized the severity of the flooding when she took the Rhode Island Public Transportation Authority trolley from campus to Federal Hill on one of the heavy days of rain. 
The trolley dropped her off three blocks from her destination, and the walk was unpleasant and wet, she said.
"That was when I knew the flooding was serious. If a shopping center — if businesses — couldn't cope with the flooding, I knew that neighborhoods must have been hit pretty hard," she said.
Hector Ramirez '12, who was in his New Pembroke 1 dorm throughout the three-day storm, called Facilities Management to report two small leaks by his windowsill, and a bigger one in his closet. "The leaks have been around for a while, but they were never this bad," he said.
Despite a quick response from Facilities, "they didn't do a whole lot," Ramirez said.
"I was fortunate that I was around to take care of the leaks," Ramirez said, who placed an Arizona gallon jug under the leak in the closet, and is still using Dixie cups to catch the smaller leaks by his windowsill.
None of his belongings were damaged, but Ramirez said that the situation could have been worse if he had gone home to Los Angeles instead of staying on campus to "get some homework done" and save money in airfare.
"All in all, I'm glad I stayed behind," he said.

‘Floating floor'
Colby Jenkins '12, a native Rhode Islander, lives just minutes east of Brown's campus in Rumford, R.I.

While the University's facilities survived the storm virtually unaffected, Jenkins' recently renovated basement was almost unrecognizable after the storm.

Rumford is near Brown's campus, but "separated by a river so I'm not surprised that the two areas were affected so differently," he wrote in an e-mail to The Herald.

Jenkins went to Home Depot at 7 a.m. Tuesday, the first day of the storm, to purchase a vacuum and a pump. He scored the last pump in stock, but was less lucky in his search for a vacuum.

"They were already sold out of vacuums, and every other store in the area was out of pumps, forcing a large number of people to just hope that the damage wouldn't be too severe," he wrote. "People are already comparing (the flooding) to our generation's ‘Blizzard of '78.' "

As water poured into his basement, Jenkins wrote he was more "disappointed" than worried. "The disappointment stemmed from losing the hard work that my father and I put into renovating the finished area of the basement, as we're now back to square one."

The basement's laminate floor, which Jenkins and his father finished last year, "had to be completely torn up." The flooding "gave a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘floating floor,' " he wrote.

The Jenkins family salvaged "anything drastically important" by moving those items upstairs, but suffered damages to many storage boxes and heavier items, including a treadmill and some exercise bikes.

"Based on the speed at which water was entering the house, I knew that there was no way we could prevent damage from happening. All we could do was cut our losses and save what we could," he wrote.

The family may receive federal aid for repairs, depending on FEMA's assessment of the damage, Jenkins said, describing the process as "a waiting game."

Travel delays and traffic
Amtrak train service to Rhode Island has been suspended since Wednesday, causing delay to some students' return to campus.

The water was about 15 inches above the rails early Friday morning. Amtrak's Acela Express trains cannot run with more than four inches of water, and the slower regional trains cannot run with more than six inches, Amtrak spokesman Cliff Cole told the Providence Journal. 

Marina Irgon '11 planned on returning to campus on Friday for a Frisbee tournament at the University of Rhode Island, but missed the first day of the two-day competition because her train was cancelled.

Irgon, who travelled from her home in New Jersey, said that a parent had to drive her to campus the next day. The change of plan was a "very minor inconvenience" compared to the plight of other Rhode Islanders, she said.

The eight-lane Interstate 95, Rhode Island's main highway, was closed for two days.
"A trip that normally took 20 minutes took close to 2 hours when trying to find detours or just simply fight the traffic," Jenkins wrote.

"When traveling over bridges that normally had water 15–20 feet below, the water was now up to the level of the br
idge, threatening to flood and block off another street," he wrote.

Since April 1, about 200 people have volunteered to work with Serve Rhode Island, the state's volunteer center, to help with disaster relief efforts, Bernie Beaudreau, executive director of the organization, told The Herald Saturday afternoon. 

Among the volunteers are "plenty of Brown students," Beaudreau said.



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