New Bern, NC – Pamlico County was one of the hardest hit areas in eastern North Carolina when Hurricane Irene made landfall along the state's coast on August 27th.
"The eastern part of our county, particularly in low lying areas, was flooded, received substantial flood damage. Early estimates were damages of 75 million. I believe that figure has probably held, it may have been exceeded. We had approximately 300 people who sought shelter at our emergency shelter and then we had approximately a week after the storm about 30-50 residents still at the shelter."
Tim Buck, county manager for Pamlico County. He said damage to homes was so extensive they had over 100 individuals who received temporary housing assistance from FEMA in the form of park model trailers. But six months later recovery has been slow enough that around 85 people are still in those trailers.
"We also had a good portion of those folks, or at least a portion of those folks, that were considered either under-insured, non-insured, and were also considered FEMA non-compliant. So those individuals were the ones we had to utilize volunteer agencies to get assistance to help them with doing the re-builds. All those factors added to the length of time it took to place them in more permanent housing."
That and the time it has taken for those with insurance to get the funds to repair or replace those homes have left the FEMA trailers still in heavy use which is the latest Hurricane Irene recovery problem for Pamlico County. When those individuals signed the papers to receive a temporary housing unit, the papers informed them they needed to vacate those trailers by April 1 and letters were due to go out soon reminding people of that deadline. County Manager Tim Buck says though with recovery efforts being slow he has sent FEMA a letter asking that at least appeals of the deadline not allowed under contracts signed after the hurricane be allowed.
"I do know we've heard from one of our congressional delegates who is also requesting an extension, so, I do know there's a real effort to at minimum to allow individuals on an individual basis to make appeals on that deadline based on the progress that they're making. I'd hate to see someone out by April 1 with minimal options for housing when they're going to be complete with their work in May or June."
FEMA's concern is with the safety of the units. Waivers had to be obtained to allow their usage in flood zones and the 2012 Atlantic Hurricane season will be underway June 1. But Buck points out the real risk for eastern North Carolina doesn't really come until later in the summer.
"I think the earliest we've ever had activity is July. The real peak season for us in August and September. We've made that point."
He also notes a huge volunteer effort to get people back in to their homes will hit the county in May about a month-and-a-half after FEMA wants people out of their borrowed trailers. Eight Days of Hope is due in late May with plans to effect repairs on between 175-and-200 homes.
"I think the long-term recovery committee was trying to get it so they could come in March but because of the logistics involved and how many folks they were trying to bring in it actually timed better to have them here in May. Their priority has been to assist those individuals in temporary housing units and the un/underinsured."
Tim Buck says he hopes efforts like Eight Days of Hope as well as individuals who are making definite progress on the repair or replacement of their homes will convince FEMA to drop their "no appeals" mandate on the temporary housing. He says talks with upper FEMA management about the issue are expected this week. I'm George Olsen.