Six Months After Hurricane Florence

Mar 14, 2019

Six months ago, Hurricane Florence pounded the Cape Fear Region, with a mix of strong winds and record-setting rain. Today, Wilmington and the rest of Southeastern North Carolina are still in recovery mode.

Along Castle Street a few blocks from Downtown Wilmington, there is a temporary trailer park in an empty lot.

“My name's Timothy Perry. I'm one of the elders in the congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses.”

Perry lives in Shallotte and is helping to manage the RVs his congregation brought here to house volunteer carpenters and electricians while they help people rebuild their homes.

“Many of these trailers have been donated by other friends for people to stay in. We've had people from California, Idaho, Washington State, Texas, Pennsylvania, all over the country. Even Michigan and Detroit, Chicago area have come in to help.”

… And they are busy. You can hardly drive two blocks without seeing a blue tarp on a rooftop. Hurricane Florence walloped Wilmington, and many still need some form of assistance.

“In the 15 years that I've been here, we have not experienced one with the severity of the length of the storm that this one provided.”

That’s Malissa Talbert, Communications Manager for the City of Wilmington

She says city staff learned critical lessons from Florence, and there is now a sense of urgency. Hurricane season starts in less than three months. One alarming lesson: many city buildings would probably not survive a category four or five hurricane.  

“When we realized that we were going to be possibly sustaining category five winds and certainly sustained winds of, of category three, it quickly became apparent that our other facilities, we had not really encountered anything that strong for that length of time. We really were concerned about the safety of our personnel.”

Talbert says the city may retrofit existing buildings, for future storms.

“Hurricane Florence actually affected just about every aspect of our community. We are sitting here at six months and our primary focus is still really on housing.”

Beth Schrader is the Hurricane Florence recovery manager for New Hanover County. Affordable housing is an even bigger issue today than before the storm.

“Housing continues to be a primary focus for us in terms of getting folks back into their homes. Repairing homes that can be repaired, identifying sites with our FEMA and state emergency management partners to try and get survivors who were still in our transitional sheltering assistance program, which means there's still actually in hotels and moving them into FEMA trailers and FEMA mobile home units.”

On Tuesday of this week, those living in hotels had to leave and find other housing. There are not enough trailers yet. Various non-profits and church groups are working as well to find places for people to live.  Schrader says another challenge is FEMA, and collecting disaster unemployment benefits.

“We've heard from quite a few folks who are concerned about the level of reimbursement or the level of award that they have received from FEMA and gaps between what they're having estimates coming through from contractors and what the initial estimates came through from the FEMA inspectors.”

And she says disaster unemployment insurance is a complicated process because you had to apply for unemployment and be denied, and then go back and apply for the disaster on the disaster unemployment insurance. This means people who applied back in October or November, have yet to receive a check.

The 2019 hurricane season starts June 1.

I’m Vince Winkel, WHQR News.