This story is the first in an anniversary series on Hurricane Florence, which struck in September 2018, and the storm’s lingering effects on Carteret County.
CARTERET COUNTY — As the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Florence approaches, residents and officials alike are still grappling with the aftermath of the powerful storm.
Hurricane Florence made landfall near Wrightsville Beach as a Category 1 storm Sept. 14, 2018. It dumped more than 30 inches of rain in some areas, causing widespread flooding, as well as damage from high winds, storm surge and other effects. The storm resulted in at least 53 deaths, the majority of which were in North Carolina, though none were reported in Carteret County.
A major, destructive storm like Florence comes with costly cleanup. The county and its municipalities removed millions of cubic yards of debris in the months following Florence, reportedly shattering collection records set by previous storms. Local governments spent millions of dollars out-of-pocket initially to clean up and repair damage from the storm, with the Federal Emergency Management Agency expected to reimburse most of it.
According to the N.C. Department of Public Safety, $1.58 billion has been spent in total state and federal funds on Florence recovery efforts to date. However, that is just a fraction of the estimated $24 billion the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says Florence cost.
FEMA reimburses 75% of eligible costs, and the state contributes the remaining 25% of funds. FEMA also provides assistance to homeowners, renters and other individuals affected by natural disasters.
At the county level, Carteret County requested $16,127,672 from FEMA for reimbursement, of which the agency approved $15,499,589. According to Finance Director and Assistant County Manager Dee Meshaw, the county has received reimbursements totaling $9,308,041 to date.
The nearly $15.5 million in reimbursement funds approved for the county represent the cost of debris cleanup, emergency services during the storm and repairs to public parks and buildings, among other projects.
Throughout the county, almost a year after the storm, local governments are also still waiting on some funds, though reimbursement checks have been rolling in over the past few months. Officials have previously said the reimbursement process can take a while, so the slow pace does not come as a surprise.
In Atlantic Beach, Town Manager David Walker said, as of Wednesday, officials have received $478,798.57. Mr. Walker said these funds were the federal 75% share of the debris and emergency protective measures project costs.
“We hope we get the state’s 25% share ($159,599.51) soon,” he said. “These funds applied back on the prior budget year (fiscal year 2018-2019) for a total of $638,697.78.”
Mr. Walker said town staff hasn’t received word if it will get any funding for the channel dredging estimates of sand loss.
Over in Indian Beach, Town Manager Tim White said town officials have requested $174,461 in reimbursements from FEMA. As of Wednesday, they’ve received $129,554.
“We’re waiting on reimbursement of $44,904 for damage to the fire station,” he said.
Town officials there also requested $1.2 million from FEMA to reimburse the cost of the recent beach nourishment project, the purpose of which was to rebuild the beach after the hurricane caused significant erosion. No time frame has been set on receiving these funds.
Western Carteret County towns have had varying degrees of success in receiving FEMA reimbursement money for cleanup and repair efforts in the wake of Hurricane Florence.
In Emerald Isle, Laura Rotchford, town finance director, said the town has received $1.65 million in FEMA reimbursement money and expects more once FEMA inspects projects for which the town is seeking money, such as the repair of beach accesses.
In addition, the town is seeking $46 million in FEMA funds to pay for beach sand lost during the storm.
Ms. Rotchford said the town is “hopeful” about that request and is glad “things are moving” and the town has received some of the FEMA money it expects.
In Peletier, Mayor Dale Sowers said the town has not yet received any of the $29,920 in FEMA funds it is seeking to pay for debris cleanup. Meanwhile, in Bogue, Town Clerk Elizabeth Sweeney said the town has received all of the money it expects to get for debris removal cost reimbursement, $104,552.49, in two separate checks.
In Cape Carteret, Town Manager Zach Steffey and Finance Director Sandy Favreau said the town has received two FEMA checks totaling $543,045.53 for debris removal.
Mr. Steffey said the town is “anxiously awaiting” another $702,106.91 from FEMA to reimburse expenses that include road and other repairs. The initial checks arrived months ago, when the town was in a difficult financial situation and enlisted the help of state officials to speed up the process.
In Cedar Point, Interim Town Administrator Jayne Calhoun and finance technician Arlayne Calhoun reported the town has received $274,751.86 from FEMA and could get up to $18,316 more. The town has not yet received the $91,583 it expects from the state.
On the mainland, Beaufort officials report they have received 75% of the $575,000 it was approved for in debris cleanup costs.
Morehead City Manager Ryan Eggleston said the city requested about $1.1 million in reimbursement for debris removal, of which it has received around $800,000. The city also requested about $485,000 for emergency services and $1.1 million for repairs and other projects, such as repairs for the 6th Street dock.
Mr. Eggleston said repairs to public buildings are going well. Crews are currently working on repairing the roof of city hall, and later this fall they will repair The Webb Memorial Library and Civic Center roof. Mr. Eggleston said the city hopes to wrap up most Florence repairs near the end of the year.
“It’s been a really long year, but it’s encouraging to see folks getting somewhat back to normal,” Mr. Eggleston said Thursday.
Newport officials did not respond to requests for FEMA reimbursement information by presstime.
More information about Florence recovery efforts to date can be found at ncdps.gov/Florence.
Reporters Brad Rich and Mike Shutak contributed to this report.
Contact Elise Clouser at email@example.com; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.