Recovery

Florence Damage up to 1,950 Buildings in Cumberland County, N.C.

Cumberland County officials are estimating more than 730 homes and 16 businesses were damaged during Hurricane Florence, on top of the 1,200 structures damaged in Fayetteville.

by Paul Woolverton and Steve DeVane, The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. / September 27, 2018
New York Urban Search and Rescue team members evaluate a flooded section of Bragg Boulevard in Spring Lake, N.C., Tuesday Sept. 18, 2018. Julia Wall/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS

(TNS) — Cumberland County officials are estimating more than 730 homes and 16 businesses were damaged during Hurricane Florence, on top of the 1,200 structures damaged in Fayetteville.

The county's assessment puts total damage at $31.1 million in unincorporated areas.

Officials say that 731 residential structures were damaged for an estimated loss of $28.1 million. The total includes 76 that were destroyed, 71 with major damage and 382 with minor damage. The 16 commercial structures represent estimated losses of nearly $3 million, the county said.

The latest figures bring the total number of homes and businesses damaged by Florence to at least 1,950 in Fayetteville and Cumberland County, not including smaller towns.

Other measures of the disaster continued to emerge Wednesday, nearly two weeks after Florence began to hit the coast.

Farmers in Cumberland County likely will see more than $12 million in crop losses due to high wind and heavy rain. Lisa Childers, director of the Cumberland County Cooperative Extension, gave that figure based on assessments by county agents.

Some of the estimated potential losses: tobacco, $5.5 million; cotton, $1.7 million; and soybeans, $2.6 million. It's too soon to estimate damage to sweet potatoes and peanuts, Childers said.

"Fortunately, growers were able to take advantage of good weather conditions leading up to Florence's arrival and harvested 60 percent of the tobacco crop and 90 percent of the corn crop," she said.

Childers said tobacco that remained in fields was heavily damaged.

Cotton is normally harvested later in the year. The immature plants were walloped by the storm, she said. Excessive rain damaged the lint and seed, she said, and fields with flooded or blown-down plants may be unharvestable. Losses might reach 50 percent, she said.

Soybean losses could reach 45 percent, Childers said.

The excessive rain could hurt the more than 1,300 acres of sweet potatoes in Cumberland County, Childers said. It's possible some of the potatoes will rot in the ground before harvest, but it's too early to say whether that will happen, she said.

Childers said the peanut harvest is expected to be delayed by the wet soil conditions, but it's unknown whether that will lead to losses.

Shelter remains open

The Red Cross reported Wednesday that 124 people were still staying in the Smith Recreation Center, the last shelter open in the county.

The shelter might close this weekend or early next week, according to Crystal Black, an assistant director of the county's Department of Social Services. During the worst of the hurricane's aftermath, 1,474 people were in seven shelters, she said.

Black and several other DSS officials gave reports about the department's work during and after the storm to the Social Services Board at its meeting Wednesday.

One lesson learned was the need for mental health support at shelters when they opened, according to DSS Director Brenda Jackson. She said the long-lasting storm made the situation worse.

"There was a lot of high anxiety and stress in the days of waiting for the storm to come through," she said. "Some people thought that they'd be in there for 24 hours, and they were in there for six days."

Jackson said opening seven shelters and keeping them open for numerous days was challenging. She praised the department's staff for their efforts.

Some social services workers with homes that were damaged by Florence have not missed a day of work, Jackson said.

Black said DSS opened the seven shelters the Wednesday before the storm hit, with 105 of its workers staying in them for the first three days. The 15 workers at each site rotated in three shifts per day, she said.

When a new group of workers took over, they started working 12-hour shifts, Black said.

Food stamp benefits

More than 11,000 people have applied for replacement food stamps because of storm damage, according to Vivian Tookes, a section chief who oversees economic services for DSS. More than 20,000 people have gone to DSS to apply, she said.

"It has been an awesome task," she said.

The average wait time in line is 30 minutes, Jackson said. The wait is expected to be longer when DSS begins taking applications for disaster food stamps Friday.

Jackson said the department expects more than 10,000 to apply for those benefits. She said DSS workers have already planned how to set up the long lines expected during the process.

Tookes said the benefits will be based on income and other criteria.

"They will not automatically be eligible," she said.

Eighteen children who are in foster care were displaced during the hurricane, according to Sandy Conner, an assistant director at DSS. The department monitors the children's whereabouts to be sure they were safe, she said.

"They were never in harm's way," she said.

Staff writer Steve DeVane can be reached at sdevane@fayobserver.com or 910-486-3572.

Staff writer Paul Woolverton can be reached at pwoolverton@fayobserver.com or 910-486-3512.

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