Businesses hit hard by RI flooding

Cranston, RI – "We've been here since 1960, and we never had a puddle in our driveway," Schoeninger says.

Now, though, Schoeninger is wrestling with sadness and anger while trying to oversee the cleanup from the flood. His is just one of a string of industrial businesses along Worthington Road in Cranston.

"The inside of my building filled up with six feet of water," he says breaking down. "I lost everything. My business is done."

A moment later, Schoeninger regains his composure and says he's not ready to write off his business. But he says there was little warning for last week's unprecedented flood, and he says businesses desperately need help.

"The government thinks they're helping us with six percent loans," Schoeninger says. "Forget it. Forget it! Give us the zero percent, like you gave the banks. I have 12 employees that are unemployed. I have 600 customers throughout the United States. There are 600 other companies, their families, their vendors - over."

The ultimate dollar value of damage caused by last week's flood is yet to be determined. But there's little doubt that the flood dealt a severe blow to scores of Rhode Island's businesses.

At the Warwick Mall, mall owner Aram Garabedian was more upbeat about the outlook for bringing back some of the stores at the 40-year-old mall.

"Some will be open in two weeks," he says. "Some will be open in five weeks, four weeks. I think there are going to be a lot of people curious to come to the mall, to find out which stores are open, which ones are shot."

Garabedian spoke yesterday as Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse toured cleanup efforts at the mall. While the statewide dollar value of damage from the flood is expected to easily top $100-million, Reed wasn't prepared to offer his own estimate.

"The impact is significant," Reed says. "Right now, one of the first tasks is to tabulate all of the damage if we can and that's why we're urging everyone to register with FEMA, because they can get an idea of the claims, the potential claims."

Reed says Rhode Island will get the attention it deserves and needs. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, offers loans with four percent interest to help businesses bounce back from the flood, and Reed says the search is on for other sources of help. The Senator said this about Cranston's Castings' Alfred Schoeninger's desire for a zero-percent loan: "Frankly, I think that's an excellent point. If we can go ahead and in a crisis support financial institutions, we should be able in a crisis to support small business. We're going to work on that."

Small businesses like Cranston Castings form the backbone of Rhode Island's economy, providing most of the jobs in the state. Over the short term, the loss of an estimated 4,000 jobs may push the state's unemployment level back over 13 percent.

Back at Cranston Castings, Schoeninger remains unsure about the outlook.

"I don't want a free handout," he says. "I mean, I'd love to get a grant. I'd love to get a grant, but I don't think that's going to happen. But I can't pay a six percent interest. They want me to put my personal property house up. I just lost my business. They want me to lose my house, too? Ain't going to happen."