EMERALD ISLE — Gov. Roy Cooper paid a visit to Carteret County Saturday to observe damage from a tornado that touched down at Boardwalk RV Park and determine if the state can make a major disaster declaration following Hurricane Dorian.
The governor was joined by House Speaker Tim Moore, as well as Rep. Pat McElraft, R-Carteret (Jones), Emerald Isle Mayor Eddie Barber and various county officials. He toured the heavily damaged RV park, meeting residents who were out cleaning up the mess Saturday and hearing their stories.
“I am so sorry this happened to you,” Gov. Cooper told resident after resident who was cleaning up the wreckage from the destruction. In total, the tornado impacted 60 units and five businesses, totally destroying some of them.
Gov. Cooper met Bill Knouse, who was sitting inside his trailer when the tornado hit. He was pinned under debris for a while, but made it out alive with only minor scrapes and bruises. Gov. Cooper said it’s a “miracle” there were no major injuries reported and attributed it, in part, to the mandatory evacuation of the state’s barrier islands, including Bogue Banks, earlier in the week.
“I think it’s an absolute miracle that more people weren’t injured or killed because of this tornado that just absolutely devastated this RV park,” Gov. Cooper told reporters Saturday. “I think clearly the mandatory evacuation order helped significantly. The fact there were so few people here contributed to the fact that we did not have loss of life, and the people who were here I think were very fortunate, especially the gentleman, Bill, I just talked to.”
Gov. Cooper said his heart goes out to all the residents who now have to begin rebuilding their lives. He said he got the impression from talking with residents that the park is a close-knit community and has banded together to help out one another.
“People who were not affected are here helping everybody else,” he said. “But that’s what North Carolinians do – they help each other, and I’m so glad to see that today.”
Along with Gov. Cooper was a federal coordinating officer from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Gov. Cooper said they will tour a few other places throughout North Carolina to determine whether the state can ask for a federal disaster declaration. They were headed to Ocracoke after their stop in Carteret County and continued touring other affected parts of the Outer Banks Saturday.
“Depending on how the numbers are (determines) how much, or if, FEMA can help us, but we’re certainly going to explore every possible avenue to try to help people as much as we possibly can,” he said.
More information about whether FEMA can provide assistance for those affected by Hurricane Dorian will be available in the coming days as officials finish damage assessments.
The governor also noted the recovery efforts are still ongoing from last year’s Hurricane Florence, and Dorian will not affect any of the assistance expected from FEMA and other sources. He added he sees it as a positive that despite Florence, the state reported record tourism numbers recently, in part thanks to visits to the Crystal Coast.
“Recovery from Florence will not stop. We’re continuing to push for making sure that infrastructure is back in place,” he said. “We’re still waiting for federal long-term housing money to be approved for Florence, but we’re continuing our recovery efforts and this won’t stop that, although we will be doing damage assessments for Dorian to determine what additional help that we might be able to get from the federal government or whether it would be anymore state help that we can provide.”
Despite the major damage he observed at the RV park, Gov. Cooper echoed the sentiments of many saying they are thankful Hurricane Dorian wasn’t as severe as it could have been.
“This storm was a powerful hurricane that came through our state. Here in Carteret County, they got hit pretty hard, but they’ve been through storms that have been more devastating for them overall, and many people are relieved that the storm did not cause as much widespread (destruction),” he said. “But for people who got their homes destroyed right here, this is one of the worst things I know that’s ever happened to them.
“I find it interesting though that most everyone I’ve talked to today, even with devastation like this … they’re thankful. They’re thankful they’re alive, that they were not injured, so that’s the right kind of attitude to have.”
Contact Elise Clouser at email@example.com; by phone at 252-726-7081; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.