Leaders from several Eastern North Carolina communities met in Raleigh on Wednesday to talk about regional priorities for Hurricane Florence recovery and what needs to be done to mitigate damages from future storms.
Members of the Eastern North Carolina Disaster Recovery & Resiliency Alliance met at the General Assembly Legislative Building in Raleigh Wednesday to provide a set of recovery priorities, including transportation improvements, an increase in affordable housing and upgrades to stormwater systems.
“We’re not just talking about Eastern North Carolina because what happens up here in the Triangle all that water eventually gets down into the rivers and out into the ocean,” said Bill Saffo, the mayor of Wilmington. “If we continue to flood those areas and those communities and those rural areas, those people are going to be moving out of there. And some of these people have experienced flooding two times, three times, four times. And they get to the point where they say, just throw up their hands and say I’m going to leave this part of the state or leave the state altogether.”
Mayor of Wallace Charlie Farrior said during the press conference this scenario is playing out in Duplin County where nearly 900 homes were damaged by Florence. Flooding in some areas of Duplin County measured 4 to 5 feet above water levels recorded during Hurricane Floyd in 1999. He said residents who decided to stay face a long road to recovery.
“There were folks that were helped by FEMA, folks that didn’t get help at all. But the majority of everybody I talk to says they’re having to come out of pocket to even come close to where they were before the storm. It is heart-wrenching to see our friends and our neighbors deal with the catastrophic effects of this event.”
Farrior estimates it will take four to six months for the community to return to pre-storm conditions. He said he hopes lawmakers will make state and federal assistance available to communities across Eastern North Carolina so that they can be better prepared for the next natural disaster.
However, some communities in Eastern North Carolina have yet to be reimbursed from 2016 Hurricane Matthew damages. One of the priorities addressed in the press conference is the need to streamline how quickly communities receive funding for recovery and resiliency after a storm. In Kinston, Mayor Don Hardy said the City is still waiting to receive $6 million dollars in recovery funding from FEMA.
“I’ve had meetings across the state, North Carolina Emergency Management, we’ve had mitigation meetings and we’ve talked about strategic plans. Yeah, we have plans. But the thing is we need action. That means we need funding to combat flooding across the state of North Carolina.”
Hurricanes Florence and Matthew caused $3.5 million dollars in damages to the water and sewer system in Kinston, along with more than $2 million dollars in damage to the City’s electrical infrastructure, said Hardy.
Another priority for the Alliance is improving transportation infrastructure across the region. During the peak of the storm, around 1,600 roads were closed which resulted in delays in delivering emergency personnel and resources to affected communities.
Another priority of the Alliance is to increase affordable housing in the region, said Dana Outlaw, mayor of New Bern.
“We have 108 units right now that that hurricane could have been swimming in that are going to be demolished. That’s 12 buildings. So I just ask you, I plead, for anybody, anywhere from state, federal, local, let’s all work together throughout all these eastern counties and get this affordable housing where it needs to be.”
Members of the Eastern North Carolina Disaster Recovery & Resiliency Alliance hope that state lawmakers will consider these priorities as ongoing hurricane recovery policy is developed. According to a press release, Alliance members met with White House officials, Cabinet Secretaries, and Congressional representatives after Hurricane Florence to advocate for more resources. Members have also met with state leaders to discuss issues related to transportation and infrastructure.