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Is NC Ready for Launch of Hurricane Season?

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The North Carolina Army National Guard delivered food and supplies to communities in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, and many of those communities are still trying to recover. (NC National Guard/flickr)
The North Carolina Army National Guard delivered food and supplies to communities in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, and many of those communities are still trying to recover. (NC National Guard/flickr)
June 1, 2018

WILMINGTON, N.C. – While Tropical Depression Alberto prompted the extreme flooding experienced by North Carolina this week, hurricane season is officially beginning Friday.

Eight major flood-related disasters costing more than $410 million in public assistance have impacted the state since 2010. What's complicating this season is what happened last season, according to Gavin Smith, who researches hazard mitigation at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"The communities are still in the midst of recovering from Hurricane Matthew, and that's going to add additional challenges to not only preparedness, but just the fact that they are in the midst of recovering, which makes them vulnerable in some ways to future damages," says Smith.

The flood insurance program is set to expire July 31, and Smith and others are calling on Congress to reauthorize and update the program. The National Flood Insurance Program paid out more than $640 million dollars for damages related to Hurricane Matthew, and there are 134,000 NFIP policies in the state.

After Hurricanes Fran and Floyd, North Carolina purchased 5,000 homes and cleared land along the coast to reduce damage from future storms. Craig Fugate is a former administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and says massive storms in the 1990s prompted the state to be proactive, but there's a vulnerability that remains.

"North Carolina has been very progressive to get better information and better data for their maps, but it still comes down to too many people in North Carolina are told they don't live in a flood zone, yet they still have a flood risk," says Fugate.

Homeowners are able to purchase flood insurance no matter where they live, but are not required to if they don't live in a designated flood zone. Smith says the NFIP program is in serious need of an update.

"The flood insurance program is in financial trouble, in the sense that because of these major hurricanes, one striking after another, the expected payout from the flood insurance program is quite large and so Congress has actually had to appropriate additional funding," says Smith.

The insurance program is beginning the 2019 season at least $15 billion in debt. While some argue that private insurers can step in to offer coverage to homeowners, others say the private sector isn't big enough to take on the NFIP's five million policies.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC