FEMA aid could have made a difference for Ocracoke

Published 7:35 pm Thursday, October 10, 2019

On Wednesday, property owners who suffered damages to their homes during Hurricane Dorian received an unpleasant piece of news. Many were surprised to learn that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had denied a request for individual assistance to help residents of Hyde, Dare, Carteret and New Hanover recover from the storm.

“Based on all the information available, including the results of the joint federal, state and local Preliminary Damage Assessments, it has been determined that the impact to the individuals and households from this event is not of such severity and magnitude to warrant the designation of Individual Assistance,” wrote Jeff Bird, associate administrator of FEMA’s Office of Response and Recovery.

Tell that to the people of Ocracoke, where more than 400 people remain displaced from their homes. While FEMA has approved money to assist 14 counties with recovery efforts, the people who could have benefited from individual assistance in Carteret, Dare, Hyde and New Hanover counties were not so lucky.

For the ones who are displaced from their homes, the rejection means there will be no help from the federal government for temporary living accommodations or grants to help repair homes. That help will have to come from state or local sources, if it comes at all.

Put simply, FEMA’s decision to deny this assistance is misguided. Whatever bureaucratic formula was used to make this decision fails to take into account the real human suffering Hurricane Dorian left behind in North Carolina.

The people impacted by this decision didn’t just lose a few shingles. In the case of Ocracoke, some had more than three feet of water in their homes. Because of the unexpected nature of the flooding on the island, there was no time to prepare, no early warning. They were blindsided by the storm, and equally blindsided by the FEMA’s response.

There’s still the possibility the decision could be appealed, depending on the actions of state officials and local leaders in those counties. Hyde County and North Carolina have not been idle while waiting for a federal decision, and there are resources in place to make sure people on the island have their needs met. A little help from FEMA, however, could go a long way.