- The Washington Times - Monday, April 5, 2010

COVENTRY, R.I. | A stream of water flowing from the basement of St. Vincent de Paul Church to the parking lot outside welcomed parishioners arriving for Easter services on Sunday, a pesky reminder of the flooding that devastated this town and others in the Northeast in the past week.

Hundreds of people across Rhode Island, including many in Coventry, were evacuated as deep floodwaters overtook homes and businesses and added to the difficulties of a state mired in a prolonged recession. Residents still are drying out basements and cellars, but many took a break on Sunday to mark Easter — its theme of resurrection having broader meaning as communities start to recover.

Inside St. Vincent de Paul, where a basement flooded by nearly two feet of water was still being pumped out, the Rev. Michael Kelley seized on the message of hope as he praised congregants for opening their homes to those displaced.

“It’s really impressive to me how many of you have been pulling together — perhaps all of you — to bring new life, strength, perseverance, encouragement to each other,” Father Kelley said. “Isn’t that what Jesus always wants to inspire us to do?”

Father Kelley said cleanup after the flood, which Gov. Don Carcieri has called the worst in 200 years with damage that could reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars, would likely seem a never-ending job to many congregants.

“You read about these things in the paper happening in faraway places, but it happened right here,” he said. “We see all the consequences of this.”

Elsewhere, the flooding was on the minds of pastors, sometimes in more subtle ways.

At St. Paul Church in Cranston, a city on the banks of the swollen Pawtuxet River, the Rev. Francis Santilli reminded worshippers of water’s dual nature: able to cause havoc, as it did for days, but also capable of cleansing sins.

“Despite the fact that water has not been a pleasant topic this past week, the church asks us to renew the promises of our baptism today and to be sprinkled with the new Easter water,” Father Santilli said. “Water is the sign that God is washing away our sins.”

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence has been trying to rally support for flood victims in the nation’s most heavily Catholic state. Jim Jahnz, coordinator of the diocese’s dire emergency program, said Friday he was coordinating with pastors in the West Warwick and Coventry areas to provide assistance to people who need it.

“There’s dirt throughout the street, there’s water pumping out, there’s mattresses on the side of the road,” he said. “It looks like no one was spared as you go down into the valleys.”

The flooding followed three days of downpours last week. Just two weeks earlier, residents were drenched in a heavy rainstorm. Providence registered its rainiest month on record in March, with more than 15 inches of rain.

The damage remains substantial in places such as Coventry, where Our Lady of Czestochowa church got about half a foot of water in its basement. Wood floors and part of the walls probably will have to be replaced, said the Rev. Stephen P. Amaral, the pastor.

But there are positive signs.

Forecasters expected the Pawtuxet, which crested at a record 20.79 feet, to return to below flood stage Sunday evening.

President Obama has pledged continued federal cleanup help, and both directions of Interstate 95 remain open after being closed earlier. Buildings submerged by water are visible again.

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