Congressman assessing Florence damage during ENC tour

Published 2:19 am Saturday, September 29, 2018

North Carolina Congressman Walter B. Jones made a stop in Washington on Friday, part of a tour to survey Hurricane Florence’s damage in his jurisdiction.

“It’s really to help me and our staff help you recover from this devastating hurricane. I know some counties have weathered better than other counties, but you still have a lot of damage,” Jones said. “We in Washington understand that this is going to take years to recover. … Today, I wanted to listen to you.”

Jones spoke with Beaufort County commissioners, local mayors and emergency services personnel, gathering information from each about how their areas fared during the storm, after Fire/Emergency Management Chief Chris Newkirk gave a presentation on the hurricane. According to Newkirk, Beaufort County saw 5 to 10 inches of rain, 7 to 10 feet of storm surge and sustained winds of 20 to 45 p.m., with gusts of up to 55 mph. He said the heaviest impacts were felt along the water.

“Unfortunately, we have the attraction of the waterfront, but it’s also the detriment,” Newkirk said.

More than 260 water rescues were made starting early Friday morning, and storm-surge flooding wrought havoc on first responders: portions of the county were inaccessible and a number of first responders were cut off from their stations, Newkirk said.

At the shelters, there were 770 people housed at P.S. Jones Middle School and Washington High School. It was infrastructure loss that kept Duke Energy customers on the south side of the river without power for four and half days, officials said.

“Our damage in Beaufort County was flooding,” said Carnie Hedgepeth, director of Beaufort County Emergency Services, explaining that any low-lying area was likely inundated.

Hedgepeth said early estimates pointed to between 80 and 100 homes that could not be restored and between 880 and 900 FEMA claims made in the county so far.

Belhaven Mayor Ricky Credle said many of those were in his town.

“That’s a lot of what we’re seeing: a lot of flood damage, a lot of homes had water. Some people lost all their furniture,” Credle said.

Credle said he’s concerned about displaced tenants, as owners of the rented mobile homes have said they aren’t worth fixing after flooding.

Tom Richter of Washington Park estimated eight or nine houses in Washington Park flooded, and another 15 had ductwork destroyed by storm surge, but he could be underestimating, he said.

“The ductwork keeps piling up on the street,” Richter said.

Chocowinity Mayor Jimmy Mobley said Chocowinity fared very well, as compared to the nearby Whichard’s Beach area, where several water rescues took place, and Blounts Creek.

“We’re very fortunate,” Mobley said. “We didn’t have any homes in Chocowinity that were damaged.”

The concerns put forth to Jones by local officials included the following:

  • Beaufort County Commissioner Ed Booth: Senior population being unable to recoup losses;
  • Beaufort County Commissioner Jerry Langley: Assistance options for renters;
  • Carnie Hedgepeth: Whether transitional housing will be available;
  • Brian Alligood, Beaufort County Manager: The slow pace at which FEMA elevation or buyouts occurs — some houses flooded in Florence have been waiting for mitigation since the last storm;
  • Beaufort County Commissioner Jerry Evans: The Emergency Operations Center is not big enough to operate rescue and recovery during an emergency.

Jones asked Alligood to send him a list of items that should be considered when Congress begins to take a hard look at the National Flood Insurance Program, which Jones said is in “big trouble financially.”

“I think that congress is ready to reconsider some of the rules of the agencies and try to give more control to governors,” Jones said. “The point is from all this, there’s going to be some debates in Washington. People have got to be helped when possible.”