One Year After the Flood: Rebuilding in Cranston

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – A year ago this week severe flooding damaged homes and businesses on a massive scale. The floods dealt a significant blow to the state economy by devastating scores of small businesses.

Alfred Schoeninger still gets emotional while talking about the flood that almost destroyed his small business, the Cranston Casting Company. But a year later, his sadness in looking back comes mixed with a smile and a laugh.

"It's only because I can't cry no more," he says, laughing. "I try, but it is what it is. There are a lot of people who are a lot worse off."

That's very different from the shock and uncertainty Schoeninger expressed a year ago at this time, his voice breaking with emotion: "My building filled up with six feet of water. I lost everything. My business is done."

Twelve months later, the Pawtuxet River seems innocuous as it flows just behind Cranston Casting's one-story brick building near the intersection of I-95 and Route 37. And things look pretty much back to normal at Cranston Casting, a third-generation family business that makes custom-designed metal pieces for the jewelry and hardware industries. But it's easy for Schoeninger to recall the flood.

"If I'm not mistaken, the date was March 28th," he recalls. "We were working and all of a sudden around noon time the water started coming up into our parking lot - a little bit of panic. We raised all of our equipment and computers up about three feet. And then we evacuated the building with no warning from anybody."

On the day after the flood, Schoeninger couldn't get to his building, so he looked at it from a nearby ramp on Route 37.

"I knew that right from the start everything was gone," he says. "We knew we had tons of insurance for business interruptory and all the umbrella insurance - everything we thought was possible, but we didn't have flood insurance, so we didn't get 10 cents."

About three days later, Schoeninger met with his 12 employees.

"All my employees said to me, Al, we'll work our fingers to the bone to get you open.' And they did. They collected unemployment, a little bit, and they came down here every day."

Together, Schoeninger and his workers cleaned out Cranston Casting, repeatedly filling a Dumpster with water-damaged equipment and other waste. Then they had to rip all the paneling off the walls, stripping everything down to the studs. Once it was all clean, they began putting the operation back together, piece by piece.

"We knew that if we could open up in 30 days that at least half of our customers will stay with us," he says.

In a lucky break, racks of dozens of custom-designed rubber molds remained untouched by the flood water.

"Every one is a unique design for a specific customer. If those racks fell over or the rubber started floating in the water, we would have never been able to open our business. So it was a miracle."

The flood was part of a dramatic year for the 56-year-old Schoeninger and his family. His daughter got married and is now expecting a baby. But Schoeninger's wife, Patricia, experienced a reoccurrence of leukemia that required chemotherapy. She's now doing well, and feels hopeful for the future.

Schoeninger says he had to cut his workforce - from 12 to eight - after the flood. And he says even low-interest government loans would have been too costly to pay back.

For the most part, though, overcoming the disaster that almost wiped out his family business has left Alfred Schoeninger with a feeling of gratitude.

"I think you should wake up, get out of bed, take a deep breath," he says, "and thank God that you're healthy and alive."

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