MARION, SC (WBTV) - South Carolina residents who were left homeless by the floodwaters from Hurricane Matthew have started to move back home.
The South Carolina Disaster Recovery Office announced late last week that the first family whose home was damaged by Hurricane Matthew had moved back home.
Another 17 families were in the process of having their homes repaired or replaced, the office said.
Meanwhile, in North Carolina, officials continue the process of distributing money from the state agency overseeing Hurricane Matthew recovery to four counties that were hit the hardest by the storm.
North Carolina and South Carolina both received millions of dollars from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development to aid with recovery from Hurricane Matthew. The money is allocated through a process known as community development block gr ants, or CDBG-DR.
Both states received their CDBG-DR money from HUD in mid-September.
But South Carolina has moved quickly to put residents impacted by the storm back in their homes while officials in North Carolina have decided to take a different approach.
"We are doing it differently, in a different model" explained Dempsey Benton, who runs the Governor's Hurricane Recovery Office.
WBTV first highlighted the difference in the pace of the two states' disaster recovery efforts in a multi-part docu-series, WBTV On Assignment: The Path of the Storm.
WBTV reporters traveled to South Carolina in late September to see the work underway in South Carolina. The crew then went to two towns in North Carolina—Fair Bluff, NC and Lumberton, NC—where residents had lost nearly everything but were still waiting to hear when or if they would receive help.
"Governor Cooper says he's going to help us and our elected officials say we're going to help you, but when?" asked Fair Bluff resident Ray Lundy.
Benton, who is in charge of coordinating the disaster response for Governor Roy Cooper's office said North Carolina is taking a different, more comprehensive approach to long-term recovery.
"North Carolina is approaching the hurricane recovery in a way that is a partnership with the state and the local governments affected. That partnership requires working with the local governments. It is not a state-down, run-it-all-through-Columbia approach like what is being done in South Carolina," Benton said.
Benton also claimed South Carolina was able to start spending money faster because the state had received a CDBG-DR from HUD the previous year to help recover from a separate storm.
"They already had processed a lot of those compliance procedures embedded in the federal register requirements," Benton said.
But he could not explain why that was a factor in spending the money to put residents back in their homes once both states got their checks, which happened at roughly the same time.
"We received the counties' proposals on the 15th of September. The letters of authorization and approval went out on the 27th of September," Benton explained.
"But you're acknowledging, though, that the way you've chosen to disperse the money is, in fact, going to be slower in getting people back in their homes than other methods that other states are using?" a WBTV reporter asked.
"Uh, we'll see at the end of the day how that works. I think it's a little too early to say one is better than the other," Benton responded.
Governor's Office slow to call
While WBTV crews were in Fair Bluff, Cooper visited a school in the town. The event was touted as a disaster recovery event.
But multiple residents interviewed by WBTV said they tried to attend the event to talk with Cooper about recovery efforts in their town but they were turned away.
"I wanted to hear what he had to say, if he's going to do anything about the housing; what his intentions are with the town, that's what I wanted to know about," Fair Bluff resident Mattie Nobles told a WBTV reporter through tears.
"They said it was a closed meeting. Why can't we hear what's going on and know what's going to happen for us. That's what I want to know," Nobles said.
A second WBTV reporter inside the event with Cooper asked why the residents were not allowed inside to speak with the governor. Cooper said he was unaware of residents being turned away.
In a follow-up statement, Cooper spokesman Ford Porter attributed the mix-up to a miscommunication between the governor's staff and the school resource officer who turned residents away.
Cooper's staff asked WBTV for contact information for the two residents who told reporters they had been turned away from the event—Mattie Nobles and a second person named Rodney Singletary.
A WBTV reporter provided the contact information a day after the event. Singletary said he did not hear from the governor's office for two weeks, until after the WBTV report from Fair Bluff was published.
Singletary said he received a voicemail from the office the week of October 9 but had yet to return the call.
Nobles told WBTV on Wednesday that she still has not heard from the governor's office.
Porter, Cooper's spokesman, declined to provide an explanation as to why it took his office so long to call Singletary and why Nobles still has not been contacted.
"To date, staff in the disaster response office has been unable to get in touch with either of these individuals. If you have additional contact information or are in contact with anyone seeking assistance, please share or connect us so I can connect them with the appropriate office," Porter said.
State House to evaluate disaster recovery response
The North Carolina House of Representatives has formed a committee to evaluate the state's disaster recovery efforts in response to Hurricane Matthew.
Committee chairman Representative Jon Bell (R-Wayne) told WBTV the committee's first meeting will be November 13, 2017 in Raleigh.
The committee will receive an overview of 2016 disaster response and recovery efforts from Mike Sprayberry, director of North Carolina Emergency Management.