A year later, much work to be done

Published 9:13 pm Saturday, August 25, 2012

Volunteers from the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church disaster recovery team work on building a home in Aurora for a family that was displaced when Hurricane Irene tore through eastern North Carolina Aug. 27, 2011. (WDN Photo/Sara Cowell)

Somewhere in eastern North Carolina last week, a group of at-risk youths from inner city Camden, N.J., worked alongside a group of a Quakers from western North Carolina. The task at hand: putting trusses up on a new house. The volunteers were rebuilding, a year later, what Hurricane Irene had destroyed.
These volunteers, and those who have come from 22 states and three Canadian provinces to aid the ongoing recovery, work under the direction of Cliff Harvell, disaster response superintendent with North Carolina Conference of United Methodist Church. He and his team have been on the site since day one, the day after Hurricane Irene, in the thick of storm recovery, beginning the work of rebuilding that continues today.
They set up operations centers in Aurora and Swanquarter; later, they opened others in Pamlico County and Manteo.
But the work is nowhere near done, said Harvell. Just six weeks ago, a disaster recovery center was opened in Stumpy Point, where 10 homes await work. According to Harvell, in northern Beaufort County and Hyde County, between 125 and 150 homes need work; in southern Beaufort County, that number falls between 75 and 100 — and it’s the same for Pamlico County. In greater Dare County, outside of Stumpy Point, as many as 30 homes are still in need of repair.
While their efforts have returned over 200 families to restored homes over the past year, almost twice that many names are still on a waiting list to get the help — from the faith-based disaster response organization — that was denied them by FEMA and/or insurance companies.
“This storm — people got as little as I’ve ever seen, from both insurance and FEMA,” said Harvell.
Harvell should know: he was superintendent of recovery for Hurricane Floyd, the costliest hurricane in North Carolina history. But the assistance, both federal and state, that propelled quick recovery in 1999 has been much less plentiful in the aftermath of Irene.
According to a recent statement released by Doug Hoell Jr., director of North Carolina’s emergency management, $82 million in federal or state loans or grants was given out to repair homes, replace personal property and rebuild businesses.
“We still have about 350 families who need help,” wrote Hoell, “even after they received the maximum amounts of state and federal aid they could.”
The same state-overseen disaster fund that provided $1 million to Harvell for Hurricane Floyd’s recovery provided only $23,000 to be split between three organizations after Irene. Just as donations to the fund have dropped, so have payouts from insurance companies and FEMA, leaving the faith-based, volunteer-driven organizations to make up the difference between settlements and the actual costs of repairs, Harvell said.
Harvell gave an example: a minimum insurance payout of $300 to a homeowner to pay for replacement shingles when the home’s roof should be replaced entirely, at a cost of $1600-1800 for materials alone.
“The sad reality about what happened with this storm, because of how big it was — from Florida to Vermont — is that insurance companies gave the minimum,” Harvell explained.
As Hurricane Irene recovery efforts have disappeared from the public eye and discourse, most people believe the work is over and done with, he said, adding that funding sources, limited to begin with, are now growing scarce.
“We do desperately need volunteers and we desperately need funding,” Harvell explained. “I’m going have to be looking at pulling the reins back. The economy being down has affected the number of volunteers and donations … It’s going to be tough if we have to close down when we have hundreds of people still in need.”
In addition to the many home repairs NCCUMC has done, volunteers have built four homes from the ground up and are currently working on two more. Six more populate the waiting list, homes belonging to families displaced for a year.
Harvell said he is grateful for the 4,000-plus volunteers who’ve come from afar and made eastern North Carolina part of their mission.
“It’s just amazing that we’ve been able to do what we’ve been able do to this point,” he said. “But there’s a lot more to do.”
To volunteer for Hurricane Irene recovery efforts, call 888-440-9167, NCCUMC’s disaster recovery call center. To donate to recovery efforts, send funds to NCCUMC-Hurricane Irene, 700 Waterfield Ridge Place, Garner, NC 27529.