Costs Mount to New England Businesses, Homes After Floodwaters Recede

Diners will have to wait at least a couple more days to eat at the Powow River Grille, where sandbags and boarded-up windows protected the restaurant from the flooded Powow River.

Floodwaters began receding in New England on Wednesday, but not before the damage was done to businesses and homeowners.

Powow River Grille co-owner Francis Broadbery estimated damages at the restaurant in Amesbury at $200,000 from more than four days of lost business, damage to the prep kitchen and offices and spoiled food and destroyed kitchen utensils.

"We were hoping to be able to put a deck out back, but it looks like the money will be spent on repairs and supplies," Broadbery said.

Record-breaking rain dumped up to 17 inches in some parts of the region. Initial estimates put the damage from flooding in the tens of millions of dollars in Massachusetts alone, although assessments were just getting under way. Gov. Mitt Romney asked President Bush to declare a major disaster in Massachusetts, which could trigger federal aid.

Meanwhile, officials continued to monitor high rivers and strained dams that threaten some towns.

In downtown Amesbury, near the New Hampshire border, residents and businesses remained evacuated as the swollen Powow threatened to push down a stone retaining wall adjacent to a dam and unleash a torrent of water. Crews used heavy machinery to pluck debris from the water and cut down trees that could fall into the river.

In Bristol, N.H., officials worked to resolve problems at a series of dams along the Newfound River that had prompted the evacuation of up to 400 families and businesses.

Flood-related costs mounted even for businesses that managed to reopen along Route 1 linking Boston with the North Shore area.

At the Essex County Co-Op, a feed, grain and landscaping supply store near the Ipswich River in Topsfield, highway traffic began returning Wednesday but there were few customers. With just half its crew able to make it into work, the retailer shut down at noon Monday. The co-op resumed regular hours Tuesday, but served just half its normal customer count of more than 400.

"Today's been a little better than yesterday, but people still think the roads are closed," said Gerry Cicchetti, a buyer at the store.

At Philips Medical Systems in Andover, one of the Merrimack Valley's biggest employers, business was back to normal after flooding thinned the ranks of the 100-person marketing department by more than half on Monday.

Although aid is expected to help soften the blow from New England's worst flooding in seven decades, reimbursement from flood insurance is expected to be relatively small. The three hardest-hit states — Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine — have relatively low participation in a federal flood insurance program.

Massachusetts, the nation's 13th most populous state, ranks 18th in the number of policies in place through the National Flood Insurance Program. Its 44,731 policies at the end of February is a small fraction of property owners in a state with 6.4 million people.

But that dwarfs coverage in less-populous New Hampshire (6,692 policies) and Maine (7,396), according to federal data.

Flood insurance yields greater and faster reimbursement than aid programs that largely offer low-interest loans rather than grants. And homeowner's insurance policies generally exempt flood damage.

In the Merrimack Valley, some of the biggest losses were expected to be at machine shops and metal plating businesses that supply the valley's medical device industry, including Philips Medical Systems and Smith & Nephew.

Many of the suppliers do business in riverside industrial areas that were flooded out, said Bob Halpin, head of the Merrimack Valley Economic Development Council.

"This region has a very integrated economy, and one of the strengths is the layer of industrial support provided by metalworkers and machinists," Halpin said. "A lot of these companies were affected by the high waters."