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Florence’s Financial Toll Clearer Two Years On

A Marine assigned to Combat Logistics Group 8 drives to a fire station to evacuate civilians in Jacksonville Sept. 15, 2018, after Hurricane Florence. Marine Corps photo: Pfc. Nello Miele

Two years ago this month Hurricane Florence hit the coast of North Carolina, leaving in its path billions in damage.

A large, slow-moving Category 1, Hurricane Florence made landfall the morning of Sept. 14, 2018. The eye crossed Wrightsville Beach at 7:15 a.m. and the storm hovered for two days producing a record-breaking, 30-plus inches of rain in some areas in the state, according to the National Weather Service.

A May 2019 report from the National Weather Service states that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Centers for Environmental Information estimates that wind and water damage caused by Florence totaled around $24 billion. Damage losses in North Carolina due to Florence’s winds, freshwater flooding and storm surge flooding totaled $22 billion. There were 15 direct fatalities in North Carolina due to Florence, 11 due to freshwater flooding and four to wind.

Gov. Roy Cooper created the North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resiliency shortly after Hurricane Florence to help residents in storm-impacted areas.

“We are committed to helping people rebuild their lives in areas hit hard by multiple storms in recent years,” Cooper said last week. “We have made significant progress on recovery, but the increasing number and intensity of storms shows the importance of building back smarter and stronger.”

NCORR, in the Department of Public Safety, manages programs statewide that include homeowner recovery, infrastructure, affordable housing, resiliency, strategic buyout and local government grants and loans.

NCORR Chief Resilience Officer Jessica Whitehead told Coastal Review Online that under Cooper’s leadership, “Our state has implemented a three-pronged approach that includes developing statewide strategies for climate change, using disaster recovery funding to rebuild more resiliently, and securing additional federal grant funding to assist local governments with resilience planning and projects.”

She explained that this approach will help the state continue to not just build back stronger, but use science to bounce forward.

“We can look to damage totals from hurricanes Laura and Sally in the Gulf this year to know North Carolina could experience more costly damage from even bigger storms, especially as climate change makes more intense storms possible. We are already into the Greek alphabet for names for this hurricane season, with a nearly non-stop series of storms hitting multiple coastal regions,” she said.

In total, North Carolina has invested more than $3.5 billion to help survivors of hurricanes Florence and Matthew. Of that, $2.27 billion went to Florence recovery, according to the N.C. Disaster Recovery Summary Factsheet Sept. 11. 2020.

NCORR also serves to administer nearly $1 billion in Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, disaster recovery and mitigation funding, as well as state disaster recovery funds.

HUD issued the Federal Register Notice outlining requirements for use of the $542 million in Florence CBDG-DR funds appropriated to North Carolina 500 days after Hurricane Florence made landfall. NCORR worked on the required action plan during that time and was able to submit the plan to HUD within 24 hours of the Federal Register Notice publication.

In April, North Carolina became the first among states with 2018 federal disaster grants to receive action plan approval, which allowed the state access to the $542 million in Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery, or CBDG-DR, funds for Hurricane Florence, according to NCORR.

“I am proud that North Carolina was the first state in the country to have our action plan approved to access additional federal funds following Florence and am committed to rebuilding smarter and stronger to ensure that our communities are as resilient as our people,” Cooper said.

NCORR launched the Homeowner Recovery Program in June to help homeowners with repairs, reconstruction and elevation of storm-damaged homes. The state has received 2,302 applications for the program since Sept. 11.

The application period will remain open at least through the end of the year. Homeowners who sustained damages due to Hurricane Florence, Hurricane Matthew, or both storms can apply online for the ReBuild NC Homeowner Recovery Program or call 833-ASK-RBNC for more information.

As of Sept. 11, local governments impacted by Hurricane Florence have been awarded $21.6 million through Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, Expedited Hazard Mitigation Grant Program to buyout properties that have experienced repeat flooding, according to states the N.C. Office of Recovery & Resiliency Fact Sheet Sept. 11, 2020.

Among the steps the state has taken to recover from Hurricane Florence, the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Disaster Assistance Program has processed 7,518 applications, with a total of $233.7 million going to farmers back in business. The state Department of Environmental Quality’s Hurricane Florence Commercial Fishing Assistance Program has paid $11.6 million to commercial fishermen and shellfish harvesters to make up for income lost due to the storm. North Carolina Department of Transportation reopened more than 2,500 roads and bridges that were damaged due to Florence, per NCORR.

Through FEMA grants, National Flood Insurance Program, or NFIP, payments and low-interest disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration, or SBA, more than $2 billion in funding has gone to survivors and communities to help the state in the last two years, according to FEMA.

As of Sept. 10, FEMA grants, low-interest SBA disaster loans and NFIP flood insurance payments for Hurricane Florence survivors total $407.8 million in loans approved by SBA for homeowners, renters and businesses affected by the hurricane and NFIP paid $632.7 million to flood insurance policyholders across the state.

Survivors in 34 counties have received $133.9 million in FEMA grants for home repairs, temporary housing and replacing essential household items.

FEMA provided no-cost housing to 656 households approved to live temporarily in travel trailers or manufactured housing units in Bladen, Brunswick, Carteret, Columbus, Craven, Duplin, Jones, Lenoir, New Hanover, Onslow, Pamlico, Pender and Robeson counties. By June of 2020, the 656 households had moved into longer-term housing.

FEMA provided $628.9 million to reimburse state and local governments and certain private nonprofits in 51 affected counties for eligible activities and disaster-related costs. An additional $197.1 million has been provided by the state.

FEMA obligated $21.6 million through its Hazard Mitigation Grant Program to encourage the state and local governments to fund projects that help communities eliminate or reduce disaster-related damage.

About the Author

Jennifer Allen

Born and raised in Swansboro, Jennifer Allen graduated from Appalachian State University in 2002 and picked up a second degree from UNC-Charlotte the following year. She joined the staff of the Carteret County News-Times in Morehead City in 2005 and completed her master's at UNC-Wilmington in 2008. Jenn spent nine years writing and editing at the News-Times before joining the staff at the Town of Beaufort in 2014, where she served as public information officer and town clerk. On June 1, 2017, Jenn came aboard as assistant editor for Coastal Review Online. She has also written for Our State Magazine and other regional and statewide publications. She lives in Morehead City with her fiancé and their pups, Z, Gus and Willa.