WEST WARWICK, RI -- Earlier this week, a major winter storm dumped multiple inches of rain on some parts of the state, which combined with melting snow, knocked out power and sent rivers and streams overflowing their banks, spilling onto roads, and flooding homes and businesses.  Some people had to be rescued by boat, and firefighters helped families evacuate flooded apartments and find emergency shelter for residents who are still displaced.

As the state braces for another potential winter storm, U.S. Senator Jack Reed today joined state and local officials for a firsthand look at the flood damage, discussed the flood recovery process, and urged residents to be vigilant due to significant additional precipitation in the forecast and the possibility of more flooding over the weekend.

Today, Reed met with officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency (RIEMA), as well as community leaders on the ground and surveyed some of the recent damage caused by flooding, including damage to local residences, businesses, and municipal infrastructure.  He also joined West Warwick Fire Chief J. Jeffrey Varone, RIEMA Director Marc Pappas, and Phoukham “Pooh” Vongkhamdy, the Rhode Island state conservationist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) for an up close look at some of the local flood damage.

Senator Reed stressed that the number one priority right now is ensuring people’s safety ahead of another possible storm that could cause more flooding and power outages over the weekend.  Reed is urging everyone to be prepared and take proper precautions.

He also stressed the need to document the damage and impact of the flooding, urging residents and business owners to save receipts and follow FEMA guidelines, which state: “residents and businesses should not wait to find out whether federal assistance will be available before beginning their cleanup and recovery.”

Senator Reed thanked Governor Dan McKee for his leadership and taking action to help with recovery efforts.  Governor McKee signed a Declaration of Disaster, a formal statement that acknowledges the storm posed a threat to the health and safety of Rhode Islanders and requires statewide coordination to respond and recover from the emergency. 

The State is in the process of collecting information from residents and businesses to document the costs of the damage from the storm.  It may then formally request a Major Disaster Declaration from the President of the United States, triggering potential federal aid.

Reed, a member of the Appropriations Committee, says he will work hard to ensure federal assistance is made available if the state qualifies. 

“We’re still assessing the damage, but it’s clear flood victims are hurting and we need to help them recover.  This past storm caused severe flooding in some areas and more rain could exacerbate the situation.  We want everyone to be vigilant and stay safe and dry if this next storm hits.  At the federal level, I’ve repeatedly stressed the need to expedite disaster relief funding to those in need and ensure the state has what it needs for disaster recovery,” said Senator Reed.  “I appreciate that cities, towns, the state, and federal officials are all working together and with local partners to estimate the cost of the damage caused by the storm.  When things get tough, Rhode Islanders support each other and we must continue to do that.  And the federal government needs to do its part.  Looking ahead, we’ve also got to take steps to make our communities more flood resilient, and I will continue working to deliver federal investments to assist the state with those efforts and more.”

In addition to flood recovery and disaster-ready funding, Senator Reed is working to deliver flood mitigation assistance to prepare for floods made worse by climate change and prevent future catastrophes.  Senator Reed helped include $12 billion for flood mitigation efforts nationwide in the historic Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs law (P.L. 117-58), which passed in 2021.  In addition to combating flooding concerns, the funding would be utilized to improve water quality, enhance dam safety, land preservation, and habitat restoration.

Earlier this week, President Joe Biden granted Rhode Island’s request for a major disaster declaration related to flooding and tornadoes from last September.  Senator Reed and members of the delegation had sent a letter in September of 2023 supporting that request.  They also sent a letter this week urging the White House to approve any assistance the state requests for the latest round of flooding.

Reed is also urging Congress to act on flood related issues.  He says Congress must reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) before it expires on February 2, 2024.  Last year, Senator Reed voted to avert a federal shutdown and provide an additional $16 billion to replenish FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund (DRF), which is used to respond to presidentially declared emergencies and disasters.  The DRF allocates funding for disasters through several programs, including Individual Assistance (IA), Public Assistance (PA), the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP), and the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program. 

Lawmakers still need to hammer out a final appropriations agreement to fund the government for the rest of fiscal year 2024.

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) can also help businesses that suffered financial losses with flood relief programs.