Jim Crosby had just reopened his restaurant, the Gentleman Farmer in West Warwick, when the second big storm hit. Sewage backup brought on by heavy rainfall two weeks earlier had already cost him $17,000 in repairs and lost business. To make matters worse, it had driven him, his wife and his teenage son from their first-floor condominium across the street.
Now, the rain was back.
"That's when the big one came," Crosby said. "I never anticipated anything of that magnitude."
Record rainfall in March 2010 pushed Rhode Island rivers above their banks, wreaking an estimated $200 million in damages and prompting President Obama to declare the entire state a disaster area. At least 25,000 homes and 3,400 businesses were reported affected, though state officials say many others never registered damages.
The worst of the flooding came after three days of rain that began March 29 deluged the state. Floodwaters shut down businesses and forced people from their homes across Rhode Island, from Woonsocket in the north to Westerly in the south. Interstate-95 was flooded and closed. Streets in Providence became rivers.
A year later, federal agencies have given nearly $100 million in aid and low-interest loans to over 16,000 affected Rhode Island residents, 174 businesses and state and local governments.
In addition, Gov. Lincoln Chafee's office expects that federal grants totaling tens of millions of dollars will be awarded later this year to help with long-term flood relief.
Despite the money, the recovery for some is far from complete.
Crosby's family evacuated their condo during the first storm without realizing its severity, taking only their son's pet rabbit and a change of clothes. They have been able to salvage only pictures hung above water level. Crosby's condo is partially below ground level, which the National Flood Insurance Program designates as a basement, so it wasn't covered by federal flood insurance. The family now lives in a rented town house.
Across the street, the Gentleman Farmer's basement filled with 16 feet of water, ruining the subfloor of its 50-seat dining room. The building's owner wasn't required to take out flood insurance and never did. Crosby said the owner refused to help pay for an estimated $72,000 in repairs, and Crosby didn't want to take out federal loans to fix a building he didn't own.
Crosby estimates his losses at about $225,000 for damage to his home and restaurant.
Others in Crosby's neighborhood, among the worst hit in the state, have fared better.
A chapel attached to Sacred Heart church and the church's basement filled with seven feet of rain water during the flood, just days before Easter. But the Rev. Richard Bucci called the flooding a blessing in disguise. Repairs were covered by insurance, and workers, while redoing the basement, discovered a severe termite infestation.
Next door, a salon and a photography studio owned by Dianna Solimeo and her husband were overrun with water. The couple ran their photography business out of their living room for seven weeks while spending "thousands and thousands" of dollars to renovate the studio and salon, which were not insured for flooding, Solimeo said.
The federal National Flood Insurance Program, which underwrites the majority of flood insurance policies, has paid close to $40 million to cover roughly 1,700 in Rhode Island flood claims.
U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said the flooding has given state and local authorities the experience they need to tackle future floods.
"We really do have to look forward and be prepared for the next one," Whitehouse said.
So far this March, Rhode Island has seen only about two inches of rainfall. That's an inch less than average and well below the more than seven inches of rain that had fallen during the same period last year, even before the largest of the storms.
This year, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is monitoring the state's melting snowpack in case of more flooding. The current winter snowfall was at least 1.5 times the Rhode Island average.
As for Crosby, two months after the flood, he turned to an escape clause in his restaurant lease and, 15 months after opening it, walked away from the Gentleman Farmer.
"We spent a lot of our money getting the restaurant built up, and we got nothing out of it. That was a real kick in the teeth," Crosby said. "It took a long time to bounce back mentally."
Nevertheless, he has. By May of last year, Crosby, 45, had found a new location for the Gentleman Farmer in nearby Warwick. With the help of his old staff, he reopened the restaurant in June, and he says he has retained _ and even expanded _ much of his old customer base.
Still, he describes his finances as "strapped." Over coffee at the new Gentleman Farmer, his face tenses as he estimates that he has so far spent about $80,000 from his personal savings opening the new location and renting his family's town house.