When the floods came to my Rhode Island town

The state was already suffering before disaster struck. Now, we won't let rising water spoil our holidays

Topics: Floods,

When the floods came to my Rhode Island townCRANSTON, RI - MARCH 30: Residents wade in knee deep water due to flooding from the Pawtuxet River on Moore and Perkins Street March 30, 2010 in Cranston, Rhode Island. The second major rain storm of March hammered the Northeast today causing flooding and evacuations. National Guard troops were activated in Massachusetts and Rhode Island where a state of emergency was declared. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)(Credit: Getty Images)

Many of you never heard of Cranston, R.I., until the major networks started highlighting it this week as floodwaters drowned the Providence suburb and, eventually, became the statewide nightmare Rhode Island had feared for centuries.

You’ve seen the images of homes submerged and homeowners desperately clutching whatever belongings they chose to salvage as they are evacuated in boats. You’ve heard interview after interview — the weeping, the desperation and, in a few cases, the resignation tainted with attempts at humor.

Nothing about this flood is funny. Rhode Island was already competing for first place in the contest for U.S. state most severely decimated by the recession. With double-digit unemployment, thousands of empty new homes unsold or unfinished, foreclosure signs lining every street and a state deficit unlikely to be righted in two future generations, we were already a mess.

Now, raw sewage floods our streams and rivers since treatment plants were felled by the floodwaters, and TV images of things like gas stations and auto body shops completely covered by river waters raise questions about the quality of our life-giving water supply for years to come. 

At the same time, the large ethnic communities that make up the 1 million residents of this the smallest state in the union refuse to let even this historic flood dampen their holidays. Last Monday night, as the Pawtuxet River rose to a record level, Passover Seders went forward with their usual determination. This year, however, the question, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” may have generated several new answers.

Now, on the eve of Good Friday, the Eastern European community, much of which is based in flood-ravaged West Warwick, is busy dyeing and painting its traditional elaborate and beautifully intricate Easter eggs.

In Providence’s Fox Point section, and beyond it to East Providence, the children of original Portuguese immigrants and whalers still live and still prepare Easter sweet breads — complete with hard-boiled eggs peeking out from the latticed, glazed loaf tops.

Italian Americans across the state, including those in my own town — the Cranston of CNN fame — are baking traditional ricotta pies with rice or wheat (called pastiere) as I write this. Like mail carriers, unstoppable by “neither rain, nor snow nor gloom of night,” Italian homemakers are undeterred by the flood of the century. The feast must go forward and, dammit, it will. 



This hopeful determination to survive and go forward, even to celebrate in the midst of disaster, is the real message of the Passover-Easter season. The heavens send humankind a devastating plague of waters and the people respond with a commitment to gather together in prayer, hope and recognition of the rebirth of spring, despite extraordinary challenges.

If there aren’t any “atheists in foxholes,” as the old saying goes, there probably aren’t many atheists is Rhode Island this holiday season either. All week long, as the waters raged, the words “Thank God!” seem to be have been uttered more than any others.

Mary Ann Sorrentino was the executive director of Planned Parenthood Rhode Island from 1977 and was an AP award-winning radio talk show host for 13 years. She now writes a column that appears in the Keene (NH) Sentinel, Providence Phoenix and other publications.

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 22
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Talking Heads, 1977
    This was their first weekend as a foursome at CBGB’s, after adding Jerry Harrison, before they started recording the LP “Talking Heads: 77.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith, Bowery 1976
    Patti lit up by the Bowery streetlights. I tapped her on the shoulder, asked if I could do a picture, took two shots and everyone went back to what they were doing. 1/4 second at f/5.6 no tripod.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Blondie, 1977
    This was taken at the Punk Magazine Benefit show. According to Chris Stein (seated, on slide guitar), they were playing “Little Red Rooster.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    No Wave Punks, Bowery Summer 1978
    They were sitting just like this when I walked out of CBGB's. Me: “Don’t move” They didn’t. L to R: Harold Paris, Kristian Hoffman, Diego Cortez, Anya Phillips, Lydia Lunch, James Chance, Jim Sclavunos, Bradley Field, Liz Seidman.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell + Bob Quine, 1978
    Richard Hell and the Voidoids, playing CBGB's in 1978, with Richard’s peerless guitar player Robert Quine. Sorely missed, Quine died in 2004.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bathroom, 1977
    This photograph of mine was used to create the “replica” CBGB's bathroom in the Punk Couture show last summer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So I got into the Met with a bathroom photo.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Stiv Bators + Divine, 1978
    Stiv Bators, Divine and the Dead Boys at the Blitz Benefit show for injured Dead Boys drummer Johnny Blitz.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977
    “The kids are all hopped up and ready to go…” View from the unique "side stage" at CBGB's that you had to walk past to get to the basement bathrooms.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Klaus Nomi, Christopher Parker, Jim Jarmusch – Bowery 1978
    Jarmusch was still in film school, Parker was starring in Jim’s first film "Permanent Vacation" and Klaus just appeared out of nowhere.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Hilly Kristal, Bowery 1977
    When I used to show people this picture of owner Hilly Kristal, they would ask me “Why did you photograph that guy? He’s not a punk!” Now they know why. None of these pictures would have existed without Hilly Kristal.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Dictators, Bowery 1976
    Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators with his girlfriend Jody. I took this shot as a thank you for him returning the wallet I’d lost the night before at CBGB's. He doesn’t like that I tell people he returned it with everything in it.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Alex Chilton, Bowery 1977
    We were on the median strip on the Bowery shooting what became a 45 single sleeve for Alex’s “Bangkok.” A drop of rain landed on the camera lens by accident. Definitely a lucky night!

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery view, 1977
    The view from across the Bowery in the summer of 1977.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977 – never before printed
    I loved shooting The Ramones. They would play two sets a night, four nights a week at CBGB's, and I’d be there for all of them. This shot is notable for Johnny playing a Strat, rather than his usual Mosrite. Maybe he’d just broken a string. Love that hair.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell, Bowery 1977 – never before printed
    Richard exiting CBGB's with his guitar at 4am, about to step into a Bowery rainstorm. I’ve always printed the shots of him in the rain, but this one is a real standout to me now.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith + Ronnie Spector, 1979
    May 24th – Bob Dylan Birthday show – Patti “invited” everyone at that night’s Palladium show on 14th Street down to CBGB's to celebrate Bob Dylan’s birthday. Here, Patti and Ronnie are doing “Be My Baby.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Legs McNeil, 1977
    Legs, ready for his close-up, near the front door of CBGB's.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Suicide, 1977
    Rev and Alan Vega – I thought Alan was going to hit me with that chain. This was the Punk Magazine Benefit show.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ian Hunter and Fans, outside bathroom
    I always think of “All the Young Dudes” when I look at this shot. These fans had caught Ian Hunter in the CBGB's basement outside the bathrooms, and I just stepped in to record the moment.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Tommy Ramone, 1977
    Only at CBGB's could I have gotten this shot of Tommy Ramone seen through Johnny Ramones legs.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery 4am, 1977
    End of the night garbage run. Time to go home.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>