Lenoir County Residents Still Displaced From Homes Due To Hurricane Matthew

Feb 1, 2017

Recovery is underway in Lenoir County.  Some residents impacted by record flooding are starting to move into new homes, while others are still displaced.

Nearly 81,000 North Carolinians reached out to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to receive disaster assistance after Hurricane Matthew.  Now that the deadline has passed to apply for assistance, the next step in the recovery phase can begin here in eastern North Carolina.  FEMA Public Information Officer Ray Perez.

"For a lot of people at this point who had insurance and registered, we’re waiting for them to settle their insurance claims and then we can determine what if anything they’re still eligible for in direct grants.  So we’re processing those kinds of registration applications for people.”

So far, Perez says FEMA has provided 90.5 million dollars in direct assistance grants to homeowners and renters to replace or repair their damaged homes or pay for temporary housing.  In hard-hit Lenoir County, over 3,000 homes were damaged by the storm.  165 homes had ‘substantial damage’ – which means water flooded at least 13 to 14 feet.  Many of those residents are still displaced from their homes and are living in transitional sheltering. Kinston resident Juliette Fordham has been staying at a motel in Greenville for the past three months since her home was destroyed by floodwaters. 

"We lost everything. We were on Morningside Drive.  And the water just starting coming in very, very fast.”

Fordham and her mother Evelyn Griffin called 911 as they hunkered down in the attic waiting to be rescued.

“When they came, we had been in the attic probably about an hour, hour and a half or two.  And when we came down, the water was around our waist.  You could literally swim in my apartment, you could see all the furniture floating and everything. (It was up to my neck.) So, it was really scary.  It was like you see all of this in a movie but when it happens in real life and you have to be rescued, it’s something to really think about.”

Recovery has been a slow process for Fordham.  Many of her personal items were destroyed in the flood including the car she used to commute.  She’s had to get rides from Greenville to her job in Kinston.  But things are on the up and up.  Both Fordham and her mother will soon move into apartments in Kinston.    

“If it wasn’t for FEMA putting me in a hotel, I would really be homeless. And United Way has done the most for me because they’ve helped me pay light bills so I could move and now they’re helping me get furniture.”

On Monday afternoon, an 18 wheeler packed with brand new ready to assemble furniture pulled up in the parking lot of Kinston Church of Christ on Sunset Ave. The tables, chairs and bedroom sets were all donated from Church of Christ Disaster Relief Effort of Nashville, Tennessee to help more than 20 local families impacted by Matthew.  

Kinston resident Cassandra Leonard had about four feet of water inside her home.  She contacted FEMA for assistance, but is waiting to hear back.  In the meantime, she’s sleeping on an air mattress in her living room because all of her other furniture was ruined.

“There’s a lot of mold, mildew, it stinks still.  It’s just something I’ve never experienced before. It’s really a shock.”

Leonard is hoping to get two bedroom sets, living room furniture and a dining room set.

The back of the trailer was bustling with activity as several men offloaded pallets of furniture using a hydraulic lift.  They hauled each cardboard box one-by-one into the church. Ivan Monroe is the organizer of the event.

“The people that are unloading are the people that are getting the furniture.  And all of this is free to them.  It’s just a way for the church to reach out to help people.”

Right after the hurricane, a trailer load of cleaning supplies and food was delivered to Kinston.  A load of appliances including refrigerators, microwaves, washers and dryers will arrive by the end of the week.

“When you lose everything, people say well these people work, they got this and they got that. But if they didn’t have insurance and you lost whole house full of furniture at one time, how quick could you replenish it.  You couldn’t.  Not unless you have a lot of money in the bank.  So, I mean it’s just very rewarding to help these people and one day, I may need help.”

The families receiving the furniture qualified with FEMA and were identified by the Lenoir-Green United Way’s Unmet Needs Committee.  June Cummings is the co-chair.

“The Unmet Needs Committee came together immediate after the hurricane and the flooding started.  And we have been the fundraising body who has brought the resources together to help people with those things that FEMA wouldn’t pay for or private insurance or Red Cross.  There were just huge gaps.”

Cummings says the majority of people they’re helping didn’t have flood insurance to replace items lost in the flood.  The Unmet Needs Committee for Lenoir County has helped residents who are relocating by paying rental and utility deposits. 

“We have helped residents with gas because they were in other counties because all of our hotels got flooded, just about too.  We help with gas, with food, we’ve helped with clothing, and we’ve also helped people with repairs, minor repairs.”

The disaster response in Lenoir County she says is beginning to shift toward long-term recovery which will include significant repairs to homes. 

Kinston resident Ashley Shirey was displaced for about two months due to flooding from Hurricane Matthew.  Her family was able to move into a new home just four days before Christmas.  As a single mother, she says the recovery process has been particularly demanding.

“It’s been hard to keep everything together.  Going to work, getting the kids to school.  It’s stressful, but I’ve made it, and I had to be strong through it.  It taught me a whole bunch of patience.  And, like being humble and stuff like that because when you have to ask for help and you’re not used to having to ask for help, it’s really hard.”

Shirey says she’s grateful for the United Way, Salvation Army, local churches and schools who helped them bounce back.  However, the cleanup isn’t over.  Shirey is still in the process of going through personal items ruined by the floodwaters.

“I really don’t have a lot of help so I just go over there when I can and getting stuff and throwing it away.  It’s traumatic having to go back in there after seeing the water and the damage and all that.  I wouldn’t wish it on anybody.”

Recovery is a long process, taking months and even years to return to normal. Much work remains to be done to help communities recover in eastern North Carolina.  That’s why FEMA disaster recovery centers remain open in Robeson, Cumberland and Edgecombe counties until Feb. 2nd.  

The Small Business Administration makes low interest loans available to businesses, non-profits, homeowners and renters. Public Affairs Specialist Mary Gibson is encouraging those who registered with FEMA to complete and submit the application as soon as possible. 

“That process keeps the door open for those not approved for loans.  Now, we have quite a few that have been referred to SBA, they are still trying to get all the documentation into the application.  Once SBA makes a decision on whether they approve the loan or decline, if they decline, then they can go back to FEMA and ask for other need assistance.”

Gibson says the SBA has approved nearly $85 million dollars in disaster loans.  This week, Governor Roy Cooper’s office announced a $198 million dollar grant to help communities across the state recover.  Eighty percent of the funds will go to areas hardest hit by the October storm and historic flooding – Robeson, Cumberland, Edgecombe and Wayne counties.  The remaining money will be send to more than 40 other counties.  The recovery funds can be used to repair buildings and homes, provide financial help for homebuyers and build government infrastructure like streets and sewer systems.  I’m Jared Brumbaugh.