Governor Roy Cooper today met with Robeson County leaders to urge progress in programs that help families and communities recover from Hurricane Matthew; he also toured several locations impacted by the storm. Last week, he announced a request to Congress for nearly $1 billion in additional funding to address the $4.8 billion in damages identified in the 50 disaster-declared counties.
"Progress has been made here and across the region in the six months since Hurricane Matthew caused widespread flooding and devastation, but so much more needs to be done," Governor Cooper said. "Most of the easily fixed problems already have been fixed, but we now face the challenge of rebuilding smarter and stronger for the future of our communities, businesses and schools. This is a partnership process. This will require resources, talents, leadership and input from federal, state, local and tribal partners. Together we will rebuild our communities stronger for the future.”
Cooper met for a roundtable discussion with local government, tribal and school leaders along with Department of Public Safety Secretary Erik A. Hooks, Director of Hurricane Recovery Dempsey Benton, N.C. Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry and FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer Libby Turner. Conversation focused on the progress made so far in Robeson County, including special grants and programs that are bringing additional resources to the hard-hit communities here and elsewhere.
Robeson County suffered significant damage from the storm, which brought record-setting rainfall to much of central and eastern North Carolina Oct. 8-9. The school system sustained widespread damage, the city water plant became in operable after taking on more than five feet of water, and hundreds of low-income apartments were damaged or destroyed.
Collaborations between state, federal and local partners, with support from corporations and volunteers, are helping the community recover. Mobile purification units, onsite within 24 hours, restored the flow of water to 24,000 homes and allowed workers room to repair the water plant. The majority of displaced households have returned home or found other places to live. State and federal funds have been allocated to address some of the most pressing infrastructure and public facility losses.
Nearly one-fifth of the 2,420 applicants who requested expedited processing through the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program are from Robeson County. The program includes the options of elevation, acquisition and demolition (“buyout”) or mitigation reconstruction (demolition and rebuild) for eligible applicants. Applications from Lumberton and Princeville, also heavily damaged, will be given priority.
Robeson also is one of four counties designated to receive funds from a $198 million grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Along with Cumberland, Edgecombe and Wayne counties, it will share $159 million to support housing, economic development, infrastructure and efforts to prevent further damage. Public comment on draft plans is being taken through Friday on the ReBUILD NC website.
While the state Disaster Recovery Act of 2016 requires all affected communities to develop or enhance resiliency planning, Lumberton is one of six communities participating in a pilot project that provides additional resources. The others are Fair Bluff, Kinston, Princeville, Seven Springs and Windsor.
Housing remains an immediate need for many families, Cooper said. More than 250 families remain in hotels through a temporary sheltering program - nearly half of them in Robeson County - down from a total of more than 3,100 households. More participants are expected to move out of hotels in coming days as they return home, relocate to rental housing or find other housing.
Community-based services are available to help survivors move forward in their recovery plans:
- Disaster case management, which provides direct, long term support in navigating state and federal recovery programs, may be requested by email via firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 919-861-2886. This program is supported by a $4.5 million FEMA grant.
- Housing counselors are assisting survivors at Transitional Shelter Assistance Centers in Cumberland, Edgecombe and Robeson counties. Requests may be made to the State Helpline at 855-336-2002.
- To request crisis counseling support, survivors may call their local Department of Social Services office or the State Helpline.
Disaster recovery has made clear a lack of affordable, available housing in eastern North Carolina that has hindered relocation efforts. In his State of the State address, Governor Cooper asked legislators to work with him to change legislation passed in 2013 to restore allowing the use of federal money for housing so eastern North Carolina can start to build its way out of this affordable housing shortage.
Half of the state has been approved for federal funding assistance to help individuals and small business owners recover and rebuild. Nearly 82,000 households have registered with FEMA requesting financial help. So far, FEMA has awarded more than $96 million in grants and the U.S. Small Business Administration has approved another $97.3 million in low-interest loans to help people rebuild their homes and businesses, get back to work and move on with their lives.
Following the roundtable discussion, Governor Cooper toured local sites affected by the storm, including Currie’s Chainsaw, the Lumberton Water Plant and Robeson County Public Library, which lost its bookmobile and hundreds of books to flooding. With thousands of donated books and a new cargo van, it is celebrating National Library Week with the launch of “Robeson Reads,” which delivers weekly, rotating assortments of pre-selected books for children through adults at a number of locations.
Additionally, Governor Cooper, Public Safety Secretary Hooks, NCEM Director Sprayberry and others lent a hand with N.C. Baptist Men, which is helping to rebuild a Lumberton home that was heavily damaged by Hurricane Matthew.
“Since Matthew struck last fall, nearly 5,000 volunteers from faith-based groups have worked tirelessly to help Robeson County residents repair and rebuild their homes,” Governor Cooper said. “Their more than 94,600 hours of service is the equivalent of more than $2.16 million in relief and rebuilding services. We are grateful to them and the countless participants from other volunteer organizations who are helping survivors see a brighter, more resilient future.”