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NC continues to mop up

As emergency response teams begin assessment of damages.

BY JOHN PAPE | WILMINGTON, NC | October 4, 2010

After touring hard-hit Bertie and Craven counties Sunday to see flood damage first-hand, North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue on Monday ordered state emergency management teams to immediately begin conducting damage assessments of the 19 counties requesting federal and state assistance.

On Tuesday, state emergency management officials will join local officials and representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to begin a formal survey that will determine what areas qualify for state and federal funds.

Faith-based groups, including the United Methodist Committee on Relief, the Southern Baptist Convention and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance had teams of volunteers available to assist with assessment or other recovery operations, when needed.

“As I stood in Windsor and Vanceboro, as I looked around eastern North Carolina and saw the flooding myself, I pledged to citizens there that we will help them in any way we can,” Perdue said after surveying some of the hardest-hit areas. “First thing this morning, I made the call to secure state funds to match any federal funds that are approved for qualifying counties. We are ready to help the people of eastern North Carolina as they begin to clean up, recover, and move forward.”

In Windsor, located in the Inner Banks region, the town hall, police department, and post office were flooded and dozens of homes were surrounded by water. The Red Cross and North Carolina Baptist Men were provided food and temporary shelter to residents forced from their homes by the flooding threat.

After she surveyed the still-receding floodwaters, Perdue told Mayor Jim Hoggard damage to Windsor would undoubtedly meet the criteria for a federal disaster area once the extent could be fully assessed.

Over the next several days, state and federal emergency management teams will tour damaged areas in Beaufort, Bertie, Brunswick, Carteret, Chowan, Columbus, Craven, Duplin, Gates, Hertford, Hyde, Jones, Martin, New Hanover, Onslow, Pender, Pitt, Tyrrell and Washington counties.

Damage estimate totals for most affected areas are expected to be completed later this week.

North Carolina Emergency Management Division officials said rivers will remain at flood stage in several parts of the state for the remainder of the week primarily in the Burgaw, Kinston and Windsor areas delaying the deployment of assessment teams until floodwaters recede.

“We’re not out of the woods yet,” North Carolina Emergency Management Director Doug Hoell said. “We expect to see more flooding along the rivers through the next two or three days.”

Once the assessment is complete, Perdue said she would request federal financial assistance for those counties that meet federal thresholds of eligibility. If the federal government grants that request, it clears the way for FEMA to provide low-interest loans or grants to storm survivors.

Vickie LaBelle, executive director of the Cape Fear Chapter of the American Red Cross, said despite the torrential rainfall and extensive road flooding in the Wilmington area, few sought shelter.

“Only a few families sought were served at the three shelters we opened. Most of our assistance has been mobile feeding,” LaBelle said.

The shelters have since been closed and LaBelle said she did not have an estimate of how many people the mobile feeding units had served.

LaBelle said her organization’s assessment of damage in the Cape Fear region had only begun, but damage to private homes was limited. She said one home in Brunswick County was flooded, but her chapter had received reports of as many as 100 homes being flooded in an isolated portion of Pender County.

The Greensboro Chapter of the Red Cross was reportedly assisting a number of families displaced when their homes were flooded; however, no one from that chapter was available to provide detailed information on the aid being provided.

In Duplin County, an estimated 260 homes and businesses were flooded, according to local estimates. Additionally, agriculture damage in the county was expected to exceed $1 million. As with other areas of the region, state and federal teams will not begin formally assessing the damage until Tuesday.

The Antioch Baptist Church, located in the heart of the flooding area, collected food, clothing and cleaning supplies for people whose homes were flooded by the rains. Like the Red Cross shelters, they had few takers.

Still, Rev. Isaac Means said the items collected will go to a good cause and called the lack of evacuees “a blessing from God.”

“We did help a few folks out, mostly elderly people who needed a hot meal or needed help picking up a prescription or something like that. We were truly blessed not to have a large number of people put out of their homes by all this rain,” Means said. “We collected some food and clothing and we will hold on to that for now. If no one needs it, it will go to a food bank or homeless shelter.”

Even as teams prepared to begin to assess the damage, North Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said the heavy rains and flooding could also mean lower yields for the state’s sweet potato, cotton, peanut and soybean crops.

Troxler said many of the crops were just about to be harvested when the storms hit. As of last week, only 11 percent of the cotton crop had been harvested and 31 percent of the sweet potato crop had been dug. Peanut and soybean harvest was just beginning.

Troxler said it was “still too early to determine the actual dollar amount of the crop losses.”

The flooding came after storms spawned by moisture from remnants of Tropical Storm Nicole collided with a stationary front, dropping record rainfalls across eastern North Carolina. More than 22 inches were recorded in the Wilmington area, surpassing the previous 19-inch all-time record set by Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

While North Carolina was hardest hit by the storm, other states including Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, Delaware and New York also experienced heavy rainfall and flooding.

In those areas, faith-based groups were also putting teams in place to assist with the recovery.

Catherine Earl, of U.S. Disaster Response for the United Methodist Committee on Relief said a number of local disaster response coordinators were ready to answer the call for help.

“The (regional) conferences are standing by to hear from emergency management and coordinate with voluntary organizations,” Earl said. “United Methodists benefit from the strength of our connectional system in disaster readiness and response.”

In New Jersey, where parts of the state were swamped with rainfall levels that reached 8 inches, Derrick Doherty of the Greater New Jersey Conference of the UMC said relief workers were ready, but most of the flooding was contained.

“According to New Jersey Office of Emergency Management, there is no major flooding and no projected major flooding. All rivers should be below or near flood stage, but nothing major,” Doherty reported.

Eastern Pennsylvania was also hit hard by the storms, prompting Gov. Ed Rendell to order the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency to activate its emergency operations center to assist local agencies cope with the storms. Rendell also directed the Pennsylvania National Guard to be on stand-by.

Lancaster County was among the hardest-hit, and a state of emergency was declared by county officials because of numerous flooded roadways. More than 100 weather-related emergency calls were received by Lancaster Emergency Services in less than a 12-hour period.

“Based on the report from the emergency management agency, voluntary organizations will determine next steps based on need and capacity,” said Deb DePrinzio of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference.

The UMC’s Peninsula-Delaware Conference said it, too, was ready to respond, but despite widespread heavy rains, no residents in the conference’s area were forced to seek shelter from the flooding.

“There are no reports of property or personal damage that would require or warrant a disaster relief effort at this time,” said Dale Brown with the Peninsula-Delaware Conference.

As in North Carolina, emergency managers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey were cautiously watching rivers as they reached predicted crests.

The Delaware River in New Jersey was expected to crest at 13.8 feet, almost a foot above flood level, and may cause minor basement flooding in a few isolated areas.

Additionally, officials in Philadelphia were monitoring the Schuylkill River for an expected crest 2.8 feet above flood stage, but anticipated little damage.

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