NORTH CAROLINA (WBTV) – The North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resiliency has opened the application process for homeowners affected by Hurricane Matthew and/or Florence who are seeking rebuilding assistance.
Governor Roy Cooper announced the opening of the new application period Monday. ReBuild NC established the Homeowner Recovery Program to help homeowners repair, reconstruct or elevate homes damaged by the storms with a focus on low to middle-income families.
“The damaging impacts of Hurricanes Florence and Matthew can still be seen in many North Carolina communities today,” Cooper said. “The Homeowner Recovery Program can help homeowners rebuild smarter and stronger to make them more resilient against future storms.”
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) took 500 days after Hurricane Florence made landfall to issue the Federal Register Notice specifying requirements for using $542 million in CBDG-DR funds appropriated to North Carolina by Congress, ReBuild NC says. North Carolina had an action plan ready within 24 hours of the Federal Register Notice publication, outlining how the state proposes to use the recovery funding.
In April, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) approved North Carolina’s action plan for spending $542 million in Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds for Hurricane Florence.
Many areas hit by Hurricane Florence were accessible only by boat.
The scene was an all-too-recent memory for nearby residents. Main Street in Fair Bluff, NC was covered by feet of water just two years earlier when flooding from Hurricane Matthew forced water from the Lumber River through the town.
The flooding forced all but one business on Main Street to close.
Episode 1: Path of the Storm: Two Years Later
‘Nobody seems to care’
Even residents who don’t want Fair Bluff to be washed off the map were uncertain of the tiny town’s future.
“What does it take? How many hurricanes do we have to have?” Ray Lundy, a retired Baptist minister, asked. “Nobody seems to care.”
The ride from Town Hall to Lundy’s home takes you down Main Street - with broken glass adorning the storefronts and think mud caked along the curb - along the Lumber River, which had receded but was still at the top of its banks and through several streets of homes whose yards were still full of standing water from the flood.
Inside Lundy’s home, the air conditioner was still not working because the couple had just gotten power back earlier that day.
Episode 2: Path of the Storm: Two Years Later
‘This is catastrophic’
You could get down Main Street in Lumberton, NC but many residents in and around the city were hit just as hard.
Like Fair Bluff, residents in and around Lumberton, located in Robeson County about 25 miles north of Fair Bluff along the Lumber River, were grappling with their second storm in the span of as many years after Florence’s flood waters inundated the area.
Episode 3: Path of the Storm: Two Years Later
North Carolina was rated a ‘slow spender’ by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development for failing to spend any of more than $200 million in federal block grant money.
‘A recovery that’s as aggressive as the response’
To talk with Cooper or North Carolina Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry, you get the impression both realize the recovery from Hurricane Matthew took too long and things needed to dramatically improve in the wake of Florence.
“We’re looking at ways to compress the timeline and we think that we’re going to betting more flexibility,” Sprayberry said of efforts to use federal funds allocated to the state to help recovery from the storms. “I can tell you, everyone’s working to that end.”
Sprayberry said his agency was in a better position to ramp up long-term recovery efforts following Hurricane Florence than it was after Hurricane Matthew.
Both Sprayberry and Cooper are quick to point out the fact that NCEM had never been responsible for long-term recovery prior to the effort for Matthew.
“We’ve learned lessons from our CDBG-DR implementation from Matthew and, so, we’re already beginning to do environmental reviews for the counties now so we can get a head start,” Sprayberry said.
The biggest hurdle to the state spending CDBG-DR money following Matthew was environmental reviews.
The state attempted to submit a draft environmental review - which must be completed for each county where the federal dollars will be spent - for multiple counties at once in late 2017.