EDITORIAL: Hurricane Resilience Still an Elusive Goal

Officials from several southeastern North Carolina communities told stories in Raleigh this week about lives still disrupted, damage still unrepaired, and residents moving away to other places on higher ground

by The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. / February 22, 2019

(TNS) - Officials from eastern North Carolina communities that were hard-hit by recent hurricanes and subsequent flooding have banded together to seek more help that arrives more promptly. The group calls itself the Eastern N.C. Disaster Recovery and Resiliency Alliance.

Members of the alliance, and state lawmakers who support their effort, were in Raleigh this week to seek better legislative support and more assistance to rebuild from Hurricanes Matthew and Florence and to improve their communities' ability to survive the next big storm.

The group's priority list includes:

• Creating a road and transportation network that assures residents' ability to evacuate safely and for emergency responders to get to stricken communities. They noted that Wilmington was inaccessible for four days during Florence.

• Strengthen public roads and buildings to reduce the risks of washouts and collapses during flooding.

• Boost state funding for stream and river management to prevent or diminish flooding.

State Rep. Holly Grange, a Wilmington Republican, organized the alliance's visit to the General Assembly and said at a press conference that many people in communities represented in the group are still waiting for government aid for Hurricane Matthew, which struck in 2016, as well as for assistance for damage caused by Florence last year. As we've seen throughout this region, government did a mostly excellent job with its initial response to the storms, saving countless lives and bringing thousands of people to safety. State and federal officials also mounted a quick response to the storm's aftermath, setting up offices and pouring people into the region to assess damage and help residents apply for state and federal assistance. Those who needed temporary housing were quickly moved.

But the next part — getting federal and state recovery funding to the people who needed it — hasn't gone as well. It should be unthinkable that people are still waiting for Hurricane Florence recovery funding, let alone assistance for Matthew, which struck nearly two-and-a-half years ago.

Officials from several southeastern North Carolina communities told stories in Raleigh this week about lives still disrupted, damage still unrepaired, and residents moving away to other places on higher ground. Sen. Harper Peterson, a New Hanover Democrat, outlined the challenge at this week's press conference: "Our world has changed and we need to come together in a nonpartisan, nonpolitical way. This is a crisis that will continue and repeat itself. ... We're still suffering five months later. That's unacceptable."

State leaders including the governor and top legislators have repeatedly called for improvements in disaster response and measures to strengthen our infrastructure and the resiliency of public and private buildings. There is broad consensus that government at every level needs to better stormproof our communities and take steps to cope with the "new normal" of a changing climate.

That means acting this year, in the session of the General Assembly that just began. Lawmakers need to create agencies that will oversee the shoring up of our low-lying communities, and improve the agencies that handle recovery assistance. That includes funding to fully staff those agencies.

That's a critical mission and our experience of the past two years tells us foot-dragging will be dangerous and extremely expensive.

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©2019 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.)

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