“There are still a lot of people struggling and they need help.” That statement by Kay Coole, chairperson of the Carteret Long Term Recovery Alliance (CLTRA), to News-Times reporter Cheryl Burke is a stark reminder that the lives and homes devastated by Hurricane Florence are still with us three years later, and will be, for months or possibly the year ahead. This is also good reminder that natural disasters are now impacting communities in unique ways that require imaginative solutions.
There has been no lack of effort to provide recovery assistance but it is still ongoing. The North Carolina Department of Public Safety has, according to a recent audit, dispersed $782.7 million so far for recovery assistance. An additional $159.7 million is yet to be spent. Added to this are local efforts as detailed in Wednesday’s front page article about the recovery efforts of two local families provided by the CLTRA.
The recovery alliance, a non-profit organization created by local churches, was established just three months after Hurricane Florence hit the area on Sept. 14, leaving behind hundreds of homes damaged by three days of relentless rainfall and hurricane force winds. Recognizing the immense destruction by the Category 1 storm, churches in the county took action to help with recovery.
Including the words “long term” in the organization’s name is a credit to the founders’ foresight in understanding the amount of damage done by the hurricane. Now, three years later, the recovery group estimates that 254 Carteret County families still wait for repairs.
Granted, some of the cause for the delay in recovery assistance for local families can be attributed to the interruption in services and materials resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, but that is not the only cause. Both skilled labor and materials were in short supply before the pandemic due to needs elsewhere in the recovery of that storm and subsequent natural disasters to include other major hurricanes hitting the state.
The recovery group estimated during the initial stages of its formation that it would take about three years for full recovery, absent any other major disasters. The fact that the recovery effort is now down to approximately 250 home repairs is a credit to the continued focus by volunteers and their support organizations despite the delays caused by the pandemic.
As the recovery is on-going, it is also creating an awareness that communities and government should consider the logistics and resilience needed to respond to future disasters. To that end the state has established the North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resilience, assessing damage reports to determine what operations and facilities sustained the least damage and were better prepared for recovery. From this effort guidance is being developed to assist communities to better prepare for natural disasters.
What is being exposed now, as the recovery efforts are winding down, is that many structures have functioned well with normal use, but because of their age and initial construction, they are not easily repaired for full use after sustained damage. James Buckingham, an assistant with CLTRA who oversees volunteer work teams, noted that many of the mobile homes now being repaired are so old that they cannot be brought up to full recovery. “All we can do is fix them to enough to be inhabitable,” he told the News-Times reporter.
Unfortunately, time and initial construction of some homes continues to work against the repair efforts. The inability to take quick remedial action to remove mold and water damage resulted in continuing decline of homes, reducing structural integrity and making uninhabitable. Now the recovery alliance workers are having to provide even more extensive repairs beyond the initial damage caused by the hurricane.
Now that pandemic restrictions are easing, Ms. Coole is putting out the call for more volunteer work teams and donations for supplies to accelerate an already overdue repair effort. Anyone willing and able to assist is invited to reach the organization either online at carteretltra.org or by sending information or donations to P.O. Box 543, Morehead City, N.C. 28557.
The lesson to be learned from Hurricane Florence recovery efforts is that despite the best efforts to prepare for natural disasters, there will still be damages and a need to respond. And because natural disasters are unpredictable, the challenge for communities and government is to establish a process to apply solutions quickly, otherwise the recovery will take longer, interrupting lives long after the disaster is past.