By Erin Smith
NC Governor Roy Cooper visited with Bladen County residents at the American Red Cross Shelter at Booker T. Washington School in Clarkton, and at the distribution center for relief supplies at the Spaulding Monroe Cultural Center in Bladenboro, before flying over the flood-damaged communities of Rowan and Kelly.
Gov. Cooper said, “I’ve been in Duplin and Bladen counties today and its pure devastation. So many homes and businesses under water, along with churches and farms. Clearly, there is a lot of people who are hurting right now.”
He continued, “The heartening thing is the unshakable nature the people of North Carolina have.”
Gov. Cooper stated that there are Federal, State and County officials who are all working together to try to make things better for the citizens who are trying to put their lives back together.
“A lot of the people I have talked to didn’t have a whole lot before the storm, and now they’ve got nothing,” said Gov. Cooper.
He said NC DOT is working on repairing roads and water systems. State officials are working with FEMA representatives on a temporary sheltering program of those who have lost their homes until they can find permanent accommodations. Gov. Cooper said long-term affordable housing is an issue the State will have to tackle.
“We are all committed to trying to help everyone,” said Gov. Cooper.
Gov. Cooper said farmers were “on the edge” before the storm. Some farmers have suffered losses for several years, according to Gov. Cooper. He said he has met with US Agriculture Secretary, Sonny Perdue.
“We need more than just a farm bill. We need significant assistance to farmers that takes into account the cumulative loss they have felt. Crop insurance is not going to be enough,” said Gov. Cooper.
Gov. Cooper said more than $750 million was spent in assisting people from Hurricane Matthew. He explained there have been two 500-year floods within two years of each other. Gov. Cooper said the rebuilding process needs to be done in a better way. He stated the process should include more buyouts, more mitigation by elevating properties in flood-prone areas, cleaning out streams, and understanding “we are living in a different world now.”
Gov. Cooper’s first stop was to visit with the families who remain in the emergency shelter at Booker T. Washington School. According to American Red Cross Regional Communications Officer, Cari Dighton, there are currently 41 families who remained at the shelter as of Wednesday afternoon.
Gov. Cooper met privately with the families and then toured the shelter. While there, he also met with the American Red Cross volunteers and Bladen County Schools representatives.
Following the tour of the shelter, Gov. Cooper then traveled to the distribution center located at the Spaulding Monroe Cultural Center in Bladenboro. While there, he met with the distribution center volunteers and individuals who had arrived to pick up supplies such as bottled water, toiletries, and hot meals provided by the American Red Cross.
Also, this week, $3.5 million in medicine and medical equipment from the Disabled Veterans of America arrived at the Spaulding Monroe Cultural Resource Center, and will be distributed to those who are in need in Bladen County and other communities.
Dighton said the American Red Cross volunteers will assist those in the shelter with the next steps in the recovery process.
“The ones that can’t go home, we will work with government agencies and non-profits to find them a place to go. We work with FEMA and also have Red Cross workers, and we will see what their needs are and create a plan for them,” said Dighton.
She said the Red Cross can assist storm victims with anything from providing them housing or assistance with filing their insurance claims. She said they also can help with tarps and shovel for clean up. Dighton also said the Red Cross can assist with feeding routes and set up feeding stations.
Gov. Cooper’s final leg of the tour took on a fly-over of the Kelly and Rowan communities, which were the hardest hit with flooding.