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Hundreds of NC homes damaged

As assessments continue in hardest hit counties, NC asks for federal disaster declaration and volunteers help survivors

BY JOHN PAPE | RALEIGH, NC | October 8, 2010

North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue has requested a federal disaster declaration for six eastern North Carolina counties hit by flooding and strong winds triggered by the remnants of Tropical Storm Nicole last week.

Perdue requested the disaster declaration late Thursday even as assessment teams continued their work in several additional counties that still have flooding in some areas.

Working with the assessment teams are faith-based organizations like North Carolina Baptist Men Disaster Relief, which currently has more than 60 volunteers working in some of the hardest-hit areas.

Gaylon Moss, disaster relief director for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, said volunteer teams had been working to help victims recover since floodwaters began to recede earlier in the week, and are currently focusing their efforts in the communities of Windsor and New Bern.

“We have about 100 homes between the two locations on which we are working. We are expecting between 50 60 volunteers this weekend,” Moss said.

Teams are assisting with damage assessment efforts, as well as “mudout and tearout” work to help residents prepare flood-damaged homes to be reoccupied.

Relief assistance hotlines have been established by the American Red Cross, Salvation Army, Baptist Men Disaster Relief, The United Methodist Men and the Vanceboro Christian Help Center for those still needing help.

The governor’s formal disaster declaration request, if approved by President Barack Obama, would clear the way for FEMA to provide low-interest loans or grants to storm victims to help them repair their homes.

“I’ve seen the flooding first-hand and have met with some of our fellow North Carolinians who are struggling to recover from the storm,” Perdue said. “We want to move as quickly as possible to get them the help they need.”

Perdue also praised recovery teams like those from North Carolina Baptist Men for “working tirelessly this week to assess damages to hundreds of homes and businesses, as well as dozens of communities and farms in 21 counties.”

According to the Julia Jarema with the North Carolina Department of Emergency Management, more than 420 homes in Beaufort, Bertie, Craven, Hertford, Onslow and Tyrrell counties were badly damaged by the storm. Of those, some 60 were completely destroyed.

Some houses retained as much as three feet of standing water for more than three days. More than 80 businesses were also damaged by floodwaters.

Those numbers are likely to increase, according to Jarema, since assessment teams still have not been able to reach some still-flooded areas in Pender and parts of Martin counties.

“We still have flooding in a couple of counties, and teams will not be able to go into those areas until the waters go down,” Jarema said.

Total damage assessments to area roads, buildings and public services have not yet been completed, and no preliminary dollar estimate on the damage has been released. However, emergency management officials say initial estimates indicate the state as a whole will likely not qualify for federal funding to recuperate costs for emergency protective measures and to repair roads, bridges and public infrastructure damaged by the flooding.

Multiple teams are working simultaneously to assess damages to homes, businesses, roads, public buildings and other infrastructure, as well as to crops, farms and agricultural interests.

North Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said the flooding could significantly reduce 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. Just before the rains began, 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.”

In the city of Jacksonville, the Onslow County seat and home to the United States Marine Corps’ Camp Lejeune, floodwaters from the New River swamped the Webb Apartments, destroying furniture and belongings of apartment residents. Emergency Services Assistant Director Norman Bryson said he hopes the disaster declaration will be quickly approved “so the individuals that have been affected by flooding can receive the disaster relief they need.”

The floods also forced several evacuations in rural parts of Pitt County.

While Perdue initially requested a disaster declaration for six counties, as many as 19 had requested a declaration for state and federal aid. Those included Beaufort, Bertie, Brunswick, Carteret, Chowan, Columbus, Craven, Duplin, Gates, Hertford, Hyde, Jones, Martin, New Hanover, Onslow, Pender, Pitt, Tyrrell and Washington.

Even though Craven County was among the six included in Perdue’s disaster declaration request, county emergency management director Stanley Kite was concerned that, as of Thursday evening, assessment teams were yet to identify the required 100 homes meeting the definition of having “major” damage.

“We are still under the 100 homes meeting the definition they are looking for,” Kite said, noting Thursday tallies showed 43 owned and 56 rented homes that received three to six inches of standing water.

Reports of damage were received from more than 250 homes in Craven County.

FEMA spokesman Ted Stuckey said assessment teams were focusing on damage to people’s primary residence, particularly living areas, to determine if the homes are habitable or inhabitable, as well as the full extend of the damage.

Even as the state and federal emergency teams were surveying the flood damage, Perdue urged residents to continue to call in and report damage. She also said she was pushing teams to work as quickly as possible.

Moisture pushed north by Tropical Storm Nicole collided with a stationary front, triggering rains that dumped between five and 24 inches of rain throughout much of the eastern part of the state last week. While the initial rains resulted in extensive street and road flooding, they also caused flooding on the Cape Fear, Lumber, Trent, Neuse and Dan rivers. Some of those rivers remain out of their banks, resulting in the delay in response teams getting into those areas.

Eight storm-related deaths were reported in North Carolina, all the result of vehicle crashes.

During the flooding, the Red Cross opened as many as 20 shelters and provided 145 overnight stays. Additionally, the relief agency distributed more than 600 cleanup kits, served 2,223 meals and 4,576 snacks. It also facilitated 150 mental and physical health consultations.

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