Governor Cooper’s proclamation designating this week, May 9-15, as Hurricane Preparedness Week, should apply to more than just preparation of structures and personal services for our region, it needs to apply as well to recovery funding which, based on the recent experiences, is woefully tardy and bureaucratic.
Morehead City, earlier this month, announced that $750,000 in Community Development Grant funds, were available for rehabilitation for seven homes damaged by Hurricane Florence. Only five of the homes originally involved in the application will benefit because one applicant has moved out of their house and another applicant had not fulfilled all the documentation requirements. This leaves the town with approximately $150,000 in available funds for other rehabilitation efforts.
Hurricane Florence passed through the area in September 2018. Two and half years after this Category 1 storm devastated the area rehabilitation funds are only now being released to rebuild damaged structures and by extension, damaged lives. The length of time between when the catastrophic storm hit and when rehabilitation funds finally get released should raise the question as to why it is taking so long for help to arrive.
In March, News-Times reporter Cheryl Burke reported on the plight of Robert and Dena Lewis who lost their mobile home to a fallen tree in the hurricane. For more than two years the husband and wife, along with their four children, lived as nomads, bouncing between hotel rooms to temporary living facilities. Finally, in March, the family was able to find a permanent mobile home with the help of the Carteret Long Term Recovery Alliance (CLTRA), Samaritan’s Purse, Catholic Charities, the Salvation Army, and Warriors for Recovery, a local charity that started shortly after the immensity of the hurricane’s destruction became apparent.
The Lewis family might have found the going even harder had it not been for Tabbie Nance and the Carteret County Public School Foundation, which were identifying families of students who were experiencing severe hardships from the storm.
According the CLTRA leadership team approximately 400 families in Carteret County alone are still without adequate or permanent housing two and a half years after Florence first arrived. This dilemma has been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic and additional storms that have hit the area since Florence.
There is no question that funding sources providing financial support for recovery from catastrophic events such hurricanes, tornadoes, fires or even winter storms should be delivered with due diligence. But when these services are delayed by years, the victims of these events have often times lost hope and have moved on without anticipation of help.
As we in Carteret County have learned, every catastrophic hurricane brings with it new experiences and challenges. Hurricane Isabel, which hit the area in 2003, was a wakeup call as the county experienced major home damages in the eastern region with more than 600 homes flooded in the Merrimon, North River, Down East and South River communities. That storm required immediate action from a variety of religious and public groups which resulted in recovery within two years.
Hurricane Florence, albeit a Category 1 storm, created even greater destruction with its 36 hours of relentless hurricane force winds and non-stop rain that entered most structures from the roofs, totally saturating the walls and ceilings of thousands of structures. The devastation was so significant that state and federal resources were needed.
For many who have grown up in the region, hurricanes are not a new phenomenon. But the level of devastation and subsequent recovery time, along with access to both labor and material, has become a major factor.
Adding to the increase in these required services is an associated bureaucracy which, due to need for diligence, tends to slow recovery services. The recent rehabilitation funding provided to Morehead City residences are a perfect example of the arduous nature of recovery.
Rehabilitation grants were not sent to the N.C. Department of Commerce until December 2019, more than a year after the storm had hit the county. Funds were only released September 2020, two years after the storm. And the scope of work and bid specifications were finally completed in April with construction to begin in June- two years and nine months after the storm.
This delay in funding the rehabilitation services is indefensible and should be a wakeup call to focus on recovery services at every government level- state, local and national.
There is no question about the need for diligence but these requirements need to be streamlined because, unlike bureaucracy that moves at a predictable pace, the storms and the resulting devastation do not work on any predictable schedule and as we have seen in recent years, communities are still not fully recovered as yet another hurricane season arrives.