Progress underway, but more help is needed
By Ford Porter, NC Office of the Governor
Princeville: Nearly one year after Hurricane Matthew displaced thousands of families and damaged or destroyed thousands of homes, North Carolina continues working to help survivors and communities rebuild, with more help needed for full recovery.
“Hurricane Matthew struck a serious blow to our state, but North Carolinians are resilient and we are making progress toward recovery,” Governor Roy Cooper said. “As I travel our state and visit communities rebuilding from Matthew, I see work still to do but also many signs of hope.”
Governor Cooper travelled to Princeville today to see recovery progress first-hand. In recent weeks, the Governor and state Emergency Management officials have also travelled to Lumberton, Fair Bluff, Kinston, Goldsboro, Windsor and Fayetteville, with future trips planned to other communities.
“North Carolina knows well the damage that hurricane winds and water can bring, and our hearts go out to recent hurricane victims in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and elsewhere,” Governor Cooper said. “We also know that recovering from a disaster is a long-term process, and North Carolina families and communities still rebuilding from Matthew must not be forgotten.”
Governor Cooper continues to work closely with the state’s congressional delegation to fight for additional federal funds to help the state recover fully, and will also work with legislators on any additional state funds needed.
Matthew made landfall in South Carolina as a Category 1 storm on Oct. 8, 2016 and then dumped between eight and 12 inches of rain across much of central and eastern North Carolina over the next two days. Some Tar Heel communities received up to 18 inches of rain from the storm that set 17 county rainfall records and caused flooding in all six of the state’s river basins. The Tar, Cape Fear, Cashie, Lumber and Neuse rivers flooded and remained at flood stage for two weeks.
In North Carolina, 31 deaths were attributed to the storm that displaced thousands of families and prompted thousands of people to seek safety in emergency shelters. Swift water and helicopter rescue teams pulled 2,336 people from the floodwaters that damaged or destroyed nearly 100,000 homes. Matthew’s flooding and winds also closed more than 660 roads, breached 20 dams, knocked out power to more than 815,000 households and prompted 21 counties to issue water advisories.
In addition to North Carolina first responders and volunteers, more than 10 states sent help to North Carolina including swift water rescue teams, nurses, mobile kitchens, food and water and emergency management teams.
Hurricane Matthew left in its wake an estimated $4.8 billion in damages to homes, businesses, public facilities, agriculture, roads and more across half of the state’s 100 counties, according to an economic study conducted post-disaster by NC Emergency Management (NCEM).
Help Provided, More Needed
Approximately $1.5 billion in federal and state money has been committed for Matthew recovery to date, including funds allocated but not yet received on the ground. That includes FEMA assistance for individuals, families and communities through the Individual and Public Assistance programs, National Flood Insurance Program claims, Small Business Administration loans, grants to buyout or elevate housing, and funds for damage to farms and highways.
North Carolina requires more help and Governor Cooper continues to work with the state’s Congressional delegation to get additional appropriations for unmet needs, particularly housing and agricultural losses.
Safe and affordable housing quickly emerged as the primary short- and long-term recovery priority following Hurricane Matthew.
“Damage and destruction from Hurricane Matthew highlighted the lack of safe affordable housing in North Carolina,” said Governor Cooper. “As we’ve seen time and again, those who can afford it the least are often the ones hurt the most by disasters.”
Progress Made, Housing Needs Remain
Local, state and federal emergency management agencies have partnered to provide a variety of housing solutions for those displaced by the storm, from short-term shelters for evacuees and temporary stays in hotels and mobile homes, to long-term plans for more resilient, disaster-resistant communities.
More than 3,000 families lived in hotels for weeks as part of a FEMA temporary shelter program as they either repaired their homes or found new places to live. For some families, the hotel stays lasted for months in communities where Matthew destroyed much of the rental housing stock, including low-income housing, leaving few options. Six months after the storm, 270 families displaced by Matthew were still in hotels. By July 2017, North Carolina officials took over the temporary sheltering program and worked with each family on a weekly basis to explore possible housing options. Today, four families remain in hotels until home repairs currently underway are completed.
For many families in rural communities or areas with limited rental options, FEMA mobile housing units provided temporary homes while they repaired their houses. In all, 161 mobile homes helped families in seven eastern counties.
“For survivors, recovering from a disaster can be a full-time job in itself,” said state Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry. “A tremendous amount of work must take place to piece back together every part of your life from finding housing, replacing personal belongings, securing transportation, sometimes finding new jobs. Some have no other resources to help them, so we work with them to provide whatever support we can to help them get back on their feet.”
In the weeks and months after the storm, survivors got help from housing counselors, crisis counselors and disaster case managers to negotiate the difficult recovery process. Survivors can still request assistance via email or by calling the State Helpline at 855.336.2002.
After the floods, non-profit and faith-based organizations also poured into communities to help residents clean up, repair and rebuild their homes. Many of the organizations worked under the umbrella of NC Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NCVOAD) which routinely coordinates such relief efforts. NCVOAD estimates that more than 45,000 volunteers have dedicated nearly 430,000 service hours to help Matthew survivors.
To mark the storm’s one-year anniversary, volunteers are convening for a Rebuild NC Day of Service on October 7, 2017, in Lumberton, Fayetteville, Princeville, Goldsboro and Kinston. Governor Cooper and his cabinet secretaries will work alongside volunteers from across the state to help NC Baptists on Mission, the United Methodist Church, Kinston Area Recovery Efforts (K.A.R.E.), and Fayetteville Habitat for Humanity repair and rebuild flood-damaged homes. To learn more including how to sign up to volunteer, visit www.volunteernc.org.
Matthew damaged critical infrastructure in many communities including roads, water and sewer systems, libraries, schools, fire stations, senior centers, parks and athletic fields. Local, state and federal agencies have spent the past year working together to repair the damaged infrastructure and develop plans to make these communities more resilient to future storms.
“Part of recovering from a disaster like Hurricane Matthew is learning how to be better prepared for the next storm, and how to minimize future damage,” said Public Safety Secretary Erik A. Hooks.
By spring, the NC Department of Transportation had reopened all but 14 of the more than 660 roads that Hurricane Matthew damaged or closed. One year after the storm, only two roads remain closed and both are under repair. Each requires a new bridge and is expected to reopen sometime in 2018.
Through its Public Assistance program, FEMA so far has approved nearly $192 million to fund approximately 1,500 local projects including reimbursement for emergency services and storm response, debris removal, and repairs to roads, bridges, public utilities and public buildings.
“Rebuilding damaged infrastructure is a long and painstaking process, both financially and in terms of actual construction,” said NCEM’s Recovery Director Joe Stanton. “Most of the time, it takes years to rebuild and also for counties and cities to get reimbursed for the work. The fact that we’ve already been able to approve 90 percent of the projects is a testament to the hard work done by locals in their recovery efforts.”
Stanton said North Carolina is on track to have all of the more than 1,700 anticipated Public Assistance projects written and submitted to FEMA for approval by mid-October. Due to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, FEMA temporarily froze funds allocated to reimburse North Carolina communities for post-disaster costs. FEMA informed the state Monday that those funds have been reinstated.
The state Disaster Recovery Act of 2016 directed $200 million to help six of the hardest-hit communities – Fair Bluff, Kinston, Lumberton, Princeville, Seven Springs and Windsor – identify ways to minimize future storm impacts. Experts from UNC-Chapel Hill and NC State University are working with communities as they develop Community Recovery Plansthat focus on rebuilding and improving resiliency.
Long Term Recovery Groups comprised of local leaders from service agencies, volunteer groups and faith-based organizationsalso are working to address unmet needs and unique local concerns related to Matthew recovery. Before Hurricane Matthew hit, only five counties had active Long Term Recovery Groups. Today, there are 18 active groups and 30 additional counties are developing one or have processes to adequately address unmet needs at the local level.
Experts working with North Carolina Department of Transportation, North Carolina Emergency Management, East Carolina University and NC State are also currently conducting intensive studies of flood basins that caused severe damage in Matthew. These studies of the Neuse, Tar, Lumber and Cashie river basins will help local and state leaders better understand the flooding that happened and identify targeted flood countermeasures to reduce future risk.
On August 14th, US Housing and Urban Development approved North Carolina’s action plan for the initial round of Community Development Block Grant — Disaster Relief funds, which means $198.5 million in funds will soon be available to start funding individual local projects. Letters are currently going out to local governments to inform them of the amount designated to help with specific recovery projects in their counties. CDBG-DR funds will especially help with affordable housing and economic development in the four counties hit hardest, Cumberland, Edgecombe, Robeson and Wayne.
An estimated $100 million Hazard Mitigation Grant Program will soon be available to help qualified homeowners reduce the likelihood of future storm damage by elevating, relocating or reconstructing homes currently in floodplains. Nearly 3,000 homeowners qualified for the program, and current funding allows 800 to participate. State leaders continue to seek additional funding from the General Assembly and Congress to expand this and other recovery programs.