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SECURITY

Massachusetts Businesses Still Reeling from Floods

Record rainfalls have caused days of disruption and millions in property damage.
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Even as the rain continues to fall, small businesses in Massachusetts are beginning their attempts to clean up after the worst flooding in 70 years.

On Thursday, Sens. Ted Kennedy and John Kerry, and Gov. Mitt Romney called upon President Bush to declare a major disaster in Massachusetts so that people living and working in the counties hardest hit by the floods could immediately apply for assistance.

Romney specifically requested eligibility for Small Business Administration disaster loans, along with disaster unemployment assistance, legal assistance, and tax relief.

"While the rains have ended for now, the hardship continues," Romney said. Between six and 13 inches of rain has fallen in the Merrimack Valley counties of Essex, Middlesex, and Suffolk, which make up the northeast portion of the state.

"This is the worst flooding in our state I have ever seen," Kerry said after touring hard-hit Peabody on Monday. "We must not let red tape and delay stand in the way of getting assistance into the hands of homeowners and businesses to rebuild immediately." On Friday, Kerry addressed the New England Council, the oldest regional business organization in the U.S., to discuss the situation.

Buildings located on Walnut Street in Peabody sustained some of the worst damage in the region. Area business owners, always anticipating some flooding from the North River during heavy rains, said they could do little to escape this water damage.

"We were closed on one of our best days -- Mother's Day," said Alex Couto, owner of Central Bakery located on Walnut Street. Couto, who reopened the bakery doors on Thursday, says the flood has cost him $5,000 in revenue. Replacing the 6,000 square feet of hardwood floors that buckled from being submerged in six inches of water for three days will cost an additional $20,000, estimates Couto.

"I'm hoping they declare this area a disaster area so we can get some insurance help," Couto said.

Pacific Mills, a 7,000-square-foot historical mill in Lawrence converted into commercial space, was under three feet of water from the Merrimack River at the height of the storm, according to facilities manager, Alida Davis. Pacific Mills's 60 tenants include mostly storage, manufacturing, and warehousing businesses and have all been affected by the flooding.

While only the first-floor tenants sustained product, equipment, and building damage, broken elevators and the loss of electricity has kept the tenants located on the upper four stories closed for business as well. The facility also suffered damage to its parking lot, carpets and floors, and shelving units.

As of Wednesday, approximately 40% of the Pacific Mills tenants were able to do business, Davis said. The water levels have since receded out of the building, but the basement is still flooded.

River levels have fallen over the past few days, but many are still above flood stage, according to the National Weather Service. Expected rainfall over the weekend will cause river levels to hold near their current levels.

In the town of Methuen alone, 1,000 people were evacuated from their homes and businesses due to the storm. The buildings in the downtown area are in the process of being inspected by city workers to make sure they are safe for employees to return. "We have to err on the side of public safety," said Matt Kraunelis, chief of staff for Mayor William M. Manzi.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, and the Small Business Administration will join Kerry on May 22 at the first-annual Massachusetts Procurement and Business Expo at Sal's Riverwalk in Lawrence -- a conference that was already planned but has since added a session on flood assistance.




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