HUD expands Hurricane Matthew ‘most-impacted’ list to 6 North Carolina counties

A 3D look at the rain inside Hurricane Matthew as it developed

NASA released 3-D footage of of Hurricane Matthew developing from a tropical storm into a hurricane
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NASA released 3-D footage of of Hurricane Matthew developing from a tropical storm into a hurricane

A pair of Southeastern North Carolina counties are eligible for an increased share of Hurricane Matthew recovery funds, Gov. Roy Cooper’s office announced Monday.

North Carolina must spend 80% — or $192.34 million — of its community development block grant disaster recovery (CDBG-DR) funds in counties designated as “most impacted and distressed” areas (MIDs) by the U.S. Office of Housing and Urban Development, which oversees the program.

HUD initially used insurance claims and Federal Emergency Management Agency individual assistance claims to grant MID status to Cumberland, Edgecombe, Robeson and Wayne counties.

The N.C. Office of Recovery and Resiliency, which is overseeing the state’s recovery funds, asked HUD to expand the designation to include Bladen and Columbus after noticing CDBG-DR applications in those counties were outpacing the FEMA applications, indicating a need for access to expanded funding.

HUD agreed, allowing NCORR to fund Bladen and Columbus projects from the $192.34 million portion of already allocated CDBG-DR funds.

“We will spend more money in those counties,” Laura Hogshead, NCORR’s chief operating officer, said Monday.

In an April 17 letter to HUD making the case for the additional designations, Hogshead noted that Columbus County residents made 288 CDBG-DR and 232 individual assistance applications, while Bladen had 161 CDBG-DR and 50 individual assistance applications.

“The applicant data collected through the state’s CDBG-DR application intake process is a stronger indicator of remaining unmet need than the initial FEMA (individual assistance) and insurance claims,” Hogshead wrote.

While officials are not sure why CDBG-DR applications outpaced the more immediate individual assistance claims in Bladen and Columbus, Hogshead said, potential causes could have been residents not knowing about the first program or being suspicious of it.

FEMA’s individual assistance is available in the immediate aftermath of a disaster to help survivors with home repairs, rental assistance, replacing damaged items and evacuation costs, among other things. CDBG-DR is most frequently used to rehabilitate and repair homes, implement buyout programs and repair infrastructure.

In a Monday news release, Cooper stated, “It’s good news that the federal government has approved our request so we can increase funding in these counties, get more families back in their homes and continue to rebuild communities stronger and smarter.”

During a White House visit last week, Cooper urged federal officials to publish guidelines in the Federal Register for additional CDBG-DR allocations, including a long-awaited $168 million in additional Matthew funds that will be used for hazard mitigation.

Those guidelines must be published before states can write or, in the case of Matthew funds, update an action plan outlining their proposed use. Both steps must be accomplished before the state can access $336.5 million in CDBG-DR funds awarded in May for recovery from last fall’s Hurricane Florence and the additional Matthew funds.

The Federal Register notice for Florence funds will also designate counties as MIDs for that particular disaster.

“I would hate for people to read this and think a door has closed for Florence,” Hogshead said. “The door has not yet opened for Florence.”

October 2016’s Hurricane Matthew dropped significant amounts of rain throughout North Carolina, with the National Weather Service reporting nearly 19 inches of rain near Elizabethtown and 10.86 inches of rain near Whiteville. The rain caused historic flooding of rivers throughout the eastern part of the state.

Fair Bluff, in Columbus County’s southwestern corner, suffered flooding unlike any in living memory; the state reported that 109 homes there suffered major to significant damage.

Trent Burroughs, chairman of the Columbus County Board of Commissioners, said he felt the MID designation was merited based on Matthew’s impact on the county.

“Fair Bluff was pretty much the poster boy for the first hurricane,” Burroughs said, adding that Crusoe Island suffered similarly significant flooding during Florence.

In Bladen County, the Cape Fear River crested at 36.44 feet — the fourth-highest in history — at Elizabethtown, according to the National Weather Service. Flooding occurred throughout the county, with the Cape Fear River inundating homes in places like Tar Heel and White Oak, while the Black River caused flooding near the Bladen-Pender county line.

Greg Martin, Bladen County’s manager, said of the expanded MID designation, “They’re often the same citizens who are affected by both (Florence and Matthew). We’re thankful to hear this, and the money will be put to good use.”

This story was produced with financial support from Report for America/GroundTruth Project, the North Carolina Community Foundation and the North Carolina Local News Lab Fund. The N&O maintains full editorial control.