This editorial appeared in The Fayetteville Observer
Hurricane Matthew hit this region 236 days ago. That’s almost 34 weeks. It will be eight months next week. But according to 9th District Congressman Robert Pittenger, who toured Fayetteville’s storm damage for the third time on Wednesday, federal officials are still compiling data and analyzing needs here to determine how much money to allocate and where to send it.
Pittenger said he empathizes with local frustration over the slow pace of federal aid. “Yes, it is slow,” he said, “but getting accurate numbers is important to do.” We appreciate the empathy and agree that accuracy is important, but we’d rather that Pittenger and the rest of our congressional delegation turn their energy toward lighting fires under the appropriate officials who can get more federal assistance here.
The federal government in December approved $300 million in disaster relief for North Carolina. The state has asked for an additional $929 million. And earlier this spring, federal officials offered $6.1 million. That is a stunning and infuriating abdication of what has long been a federal responsibility that Washington unquestioningly accepted.
The state last year allocated $200 million for hurricane flooding relief and it has added $150 million more to the budget that will take effect on July 1. Given the pitiful federal response, the state may need to dig deeper into its rainy day fund to further deal with hurricane damage.
The state estimates that it suffered damages costing at least $2.8 billion from the storm, mostly from the epic flooding caused by torrential rains. Accompanying economic losses are pegged at another $2 billion. Several of the counties hit hardest by Matthew are among the poorest in the state, which means that many business and residential property owners had insufficient insurance to cover the damage – and in may cases, no insurance at all. The storm killed 28 people and damaged nearly 100,000 homes and 19,000 businesses. And the feds figure another $6 million should tidy it all up?
The hurricane season began this week. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasts as many as 17 named storms, with as many as nine of them becoming hurricanes. We may not see as much as a drop of rain from any of the storms. Or we may get flooded all over again. There’s no way to predict it any more than a few days or maybe a week in advance.
But Matthew’s lessons are still fresh. We know our roads, dams and stormwater drainage systems can’t handle even a lesser storm, let along another Matthew. And we know we need to rebuild and protect ourselves from the next killer storm. But we can’t do it alone. We hope that message has been delivered in Washington.