North Carolina lags South Carolina in Hurricane Matthew recovery

Path of the Storm: NC lags behind SC in recovery
Updated: Oct. 4, 2017 at 9:53 PM EDT
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(Corey Schmidt | WBTV)
(Corey Schmidt | WBTV)
(Corey Schmidt | WBTV)
(Corey Schmidt | WBTV)

FAIR BLUFF, NC (WBTV) - The effort to repair homes damaged by Hurricane Matthew in North Carolina is lagging behind the pace set by South Carolina, a WBTV investigation has found.

Hurricane Matthew hit North Carolina and South Carolina during the second week of October 2016. The storm dumped a massive amount of rain, which triggered severe flooding throughout eastern North Carolina and South Carolina.

Some cities, like Fair Bluff, NC in Columbus County—just across the state line—saw nearly their entire town flooded.

In Fair Bluff, the Lumber River rose over its banks and blanketed the town's Main Street with feet of water. Nearly all of the businesses damaged by the flood waters remain boarded up a year later.

Down the street from the business district sits Jody Johnson's house; gutted and empty.

Johnson had flood insurance but it didn't cover his entire mortgage. Now he's stuck having to make payments on a house he can't live it with no idea when or if he'll receive additional help.

Both North Carolina and South Carolina have been awarded block grants from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development to help repair or replace homes like Johnson's that were damaged in the flood.

The grants—known as CDBG-DR funds—were awarded earlier this year and both states received their promised funds in September.

But that's where the similarities end.

In South Carolina, contractors began construction on homes impacted by Hurricane Matthew in late September, just days after the state received its federal money. Officials with the South Carolina Disaster Recovery Office hire contractors to repair or replace homes and work with outside agencies to help coordinate related social services.

"I would say by mid-to-late October, we'll turn over ten homes," JR Sanderson, South Carolina Disaster Recovery Office Director, told WBTV.

Sanderson said they learned from the process they used to help rebuild homes after a severe flood in 2015 to cut out red tape and get people back in their homes as quick as possible.

"We are the fastest anywhere in the nation. Period. Hands down, end of report," Sanderson said.

North Carolina has taken a different approach. The North Carolina Emergency Management office is coordinating Hurricane Matthew recovery efforts.

Instead of directly hiring contractors to repair victims' homes, the state is disbursing the federal money it received to individual cities and counties hardest hit by the flooding. Those municipalities, in turn, will hand out money to residents who have applied for assistance.

As of this week, the state had yet to make its award to the local agencies.

An administrator for one local government agency laughed when a reporter called to ask if they had received CDBG-DR funds yet.

Despite that, officials with NCEM insist North Carolina is on the same timeline as South Carolina—where up to a dozen Matthew victims are set to move back into their homes this month—when it comes to recovery efforts.

Keith Acree, an NCEM spokesman, doubted South Carolina's ability to get Hurricane Matthew victims back in their homes so quickly in an email to WBTV.

"I'm sure SC has many families returning to their repaired/rehabbed homes, just like in NC, but it's not happening yet through CDBG-DR funding in either state," Acree said.

Acree's email came after his boss, NCEM Director Mike Sprayberry had a conversation with JR Sanderson in South Carolina about their state's recovery timeline.

Sprayberry's call to Sanderson was prompted by questions from WBTV about why North Carolina was lagging behind South Carolina in getting victims' homes repaired.

For his part, Sprayberry said he's comfortable with the speed of North Carolina's recovery timeline.

"We're in the process of reviewing the applications and then I think we're going, in the next few weeks, we'll be able to start sending awards out to the counties," Sprayberry told WBTV in an interview in late September.

During the interview, Sprayberry defended the gap in progress between North Carolina and South Carolina.

"I don't really think it's taking so long," he said. "They're tracking along the same timeline with us in Hurricane Matthew."

This story is part of a special report examining the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. Look for our special five-part digital documentary WBTV On Assignment: The Path of the Storm starting this Sunday on and tune into WBTV on-air Monday night at 7:30.

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