One Year After the Flood: Perkins Avenue

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – This week marks one year since the devastating March floods of 2010. More than 26,000 Rhode Island households were under water. No city or town was spared. But damage was most severe in Cranston, Warwick and West Warwick because of the Pawtuxet River which crested at over twice flood stage.

On March 31, 2010 it was impossible to enter the basement of Jackie Pearson's home on Perkins Avenue in Cranston. Not only was the basement full of water, the flooding went halfway up the first floor walls.

Going through a photo album, she comes across a picture of her mud-filled living room. "This is the living room," she says. "Look at that, all over my floor. Isn't that horrible?"

Pearson wasn't able to get back into the home until January. She had flood insurance which paid $87,000 for repairs. She spent it all and the result is a home she is once again proud of. But, like many of her neighbors, Pearson has applied for a federal buyout of her property.

"I'm going to be 60 years old," Pearson explains, "I can't keep going through this. It's just too much for my health. We love this neighborhood but it's too bad. This belongs to the river."

Pearson's next door neighbors, Joanne and David Englund, are also applying for a federal buyout. They had water halfway up their living room, too. The damage, paid for with flood insurance, cost $140,000 to repair - far more the couple paid for the house ten years ago.

"We've been flooded more than three times," says David Englund. "Three times meant six feet of water or more. That's kind of how we judge it. We've had three feet of water or two feet and we haven't considered that a flood as other people do."

The Englunds like their sage green 1920's bungalow so much, they're considering having it moved to another site. That is if the federal buyout comes through. A decision is expected this fall, according to Cranston Mayor Alan Fung. "We've been making the push with our congressional delegation," says Fung. "We were definitely proactive in getting our application in quickly. So I'm staying cautiously optimistic that we'll get some good news but it's very difficult to say."

The buyout price will be based on pre-flood assessments minus any money advanced by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The resulting price may be enough for some flood weary residents, but not for neighborhood resident Beverly Van Slyke, a 63 year old single woman who earns a modest salary at a bank. "What I have right now I could never have again," says Slyke fighting back tears. "And retirement - let's face it. You don't want to have a mortgage. A 30 year mortgage when you're in retirement age."

The 2010 floods have turned Perkins Avenue residents into a bunch of ombrophobes - people who fear rain. Van Slyke says she starts worrying as soon as she hears rain is in the forecast.

"I would never go on a winter/spring vacation," Van Slyke stresses. "I would never leave my home for any period of time. I don't go away on trips. If I do short trips it will be during the summer months when I know it's not going to be raining."

Jackie Pearson says she's so fearful of rain it makes her sick. "I get headaches," says Pearson. "I worry about the rain constantly. It's not going to be doing good for my health. And my neighbors are the same way. It's just I don't want to go through this again."

These reactions are perfectly normal says Rebecca James of RI HOPE, an acronym for "Helping Other People in Emergencies."

"We encounter people with flashbacks," says James. "People who are having nightmares. We've also come into contact with people who are reporting their children are having nightmares and difficulty sleeping, particularly when it rains."

Twenty-three Perkins Avenue neighborhood homeowners have applied for the federal buyout. Not all will take it. But those who don't face a certain future of continued flooding and dramatically higher flood insurance rates.

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