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FEMA Dollars Trickle In as NC Hurricane Relief Continues

Statewide, more than 99,000 FEMA applications were filed by people seeking help after September's record rainfall and flooding. In the meantime, many need assistance meeting basic needs. (Greater Hope International Church, Lumberton)
Statewide, more than 99,000 FEMA applications were filed by people seeking help after September's record rainfall and flooding. In the meantime, many need assistance meeting basic needs. (Greater Hope International Church, Lumberton)
December 26, 2018

LUMBERTON, N.C. — At year's end, relief efforts after Hurricane Florence are still underway by churches and civic groups, in a county full of memories of Hurricane Matthew two years ago.

Robeson County was granted more than $11 million from FEMA to demolish, reconstruct and elevate homes damaged by Matthew. Some were still waiting for those funds to trickle in when Florence hit this September.

Jennifer Strickland is among them. The mother of three said FEMA promised to repair the missing portion of her roof more than a month ago – but things are worse for others.

"They're still people that's, of course, not in a home. Some people that are back at home, they don't have food, they're sleeping on the floor, they still need clothes,” Strickland said. “Just a lot of people lost a great deal, so it's awful."

The county is dealing with damage to nearly 7,000 homes and buildings. Gov. Roy Cooper is pushing for more resources, including working with the state's congressional delegation to request almost $9 billion in federal funds to help rebuild houses, farms, businesses, roads and more.

Florence, which hit many of the same areas as Matthew, dropped about 40 inches of rain in just three days on towns like Lumberton, where more than 35 percent of residents live below the federal poverty line.

Reporting by North Carolina News Connection in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded in part by the Park Foundation.

Ron Barnes, pastor of Greater Hope International Church, said in the past few months, his church has received more than 10,000 requests for food, clothing and emergency shelter assistance.

"We have numbers of people that have lost everything twice in a 24-month period, and they have literally been devastated by this situation,” Barnes said. “And the need here now is absolutely overwhelming."

Barnes said the church fundraising campaign has received national attention.

The Southern Movement Assembly and Alternate ROOTS are two of the nonprofit groups extending resources to Robeson County and other impoverished communities. Michelle Ramos, executive director of Alternate ROOTS, said it's important to continue the effort in places she called "forgotten."

"Social media lends to the process of folks kind of flying in and giving for a brief moment, or paying attention for a brief moment – and then the next moment, they're on to the next thing that's breaking on social media,” Ramos said. “This region, in general, is a region where there is a lot of economic distress."

More than $1 billion in aid has already been approved for North Carolinians, in a combination of FEMA flood insurance payments, grants and small loans.

Antionette Kerr, Public News Service - NC