North Carolina Officials Ask for More from FEMA

Just as some local officials said they were starting to get antsy about the arrival of federal aid in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, it began arriving.

Source: WSJ - Ben Kesling and Valerie Bauerlein | Published on September 20, 2018

Predictive flood modeling

“This was the first FEMA shirt I’ve seen. We’ve been taking care of ourselves,” said Skip Watkins, vice chairman of the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners. He had waited in line and shook hands with Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long on Tuesday, a week after schools closed and businesses closed for Florence.

The storm, which has claimed 36 lives, drenched the Carolinas for days, demolishing homes, closing businesses and damaging crops and farms.

So far, the main faces of relief have been local and state agencies, and public officials have emphasized that citizens need to first turn to local resources.

FEMA is hewing to a more traditional, less-activist role, say people on the ground, disaster experts and the agency itself.

The agency wasn’t designed to take the lead in these situations, and it is working with local and state officials to provide expertise and resources as needed, said Jenny Burke, FEMA spokeswoman. Some of the department’s main functions, like funding rebuilding efforts and medium- and long-term shelter, can’t begin until floodwaters recede, she said.

“The general misconception is that FEMA comes in and is able to fix everything for everybody,” said Ms. Burke. “The reality is it’s a whole community response.”

As of Wednesday, there were 171 FEMA employees on the ground in hard-hit New Hanover County and another 100 are expected soon, Mr. Watkins said. They hadn’t started one-on-one interviews with people seeking aid but were expected to begin soon at a high school-turned-shelter, he said. In total, FEMA says it has nearly 1,200 personnel on the ground in the Carolinas, and 2,900 supporting the storm overall.

Mr. Watkins said he is eager for FEMA’s involvement so the county can move the evacuees and reopen the school next week.

“We’re going to need a lot of help,” Mr. Watkins said. “We believe that FEMA’s going to do their job, but we are going to make sure they do their job.”

State Sen. Michael Lee, a Republican who represents New Hanover County, said he and other elected officials are asking FEMA to open a disaster recovery center on the ground. Many of the 650 people at the high school shelter are older people, he said. Sen. Lee said he hasn’t gotten assurances about a center, but he and others are pressing the administration.

“I was a little discouraged a few days ago,” Sen. Lee said. “I’m encouraged so see them here now.”

President Trump toured North Carolina Wednesday with North Carolina’s Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and FEMA officials. “The money will come as fast as you need it,” Mr. Trump said.

After meeting with President Trump on Wednesday, Gov. Cooper said he drove home the state’s need for “significant resources” in the wake of Florence. Mr. Cooper said he talked to the president about the state’s need for FEMA help for immediate issues such as temporary housing, long-term housing needs and highway and bridge issues.

“We’re going to need significant resources to recover and I emphasized that to him over and over again,” Mr. Cooper said at a news conference. “He promised 100% support and we’re going to hold them to it.”