Eight months later, the couple are still living with their daughter and trying to get their house repaired so they can go home. They are not alone. The state is currently caught in an impasse found in other disaster recovery areas, such as Houston, Texas, the Florida Panhandle, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
In North Carolina’s rural areas and coastal towns, tourist attractions open for business give signs that all is well, but houses with tarped roofs and gutted insides tell a different story. Displaced residents are still couch-surfing with friends and relatives, sheltering in trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), or watching their savings dwindle from hotel and motel stays. (FEMA and state aid for hotel stays ended in March.)
With hurricane season set to begin June 1, it’s possible more storms could pile onto the state’s backlogged rebuild. Meanwhile, disaster funding has become the latest victim of partisan gridlock in Congress, leaving residents like the Eubankses to find their best hope for recovery in volunteer and faith-based organizations.
When Florence hit the Carolinas and part of Virginia on Sept. 14, 2018, she slowed to a crawl. Over the next six days, Florence dumped an estimated 10 trillion gallons of water across 14,000 square miles. Heavy winds peeled the roofs off houses, battered infrastructure, and downed trees, while a storm surge brought record-breaking river flooding. Florence caused an estimated $22 billion in damages ($17 billion in North Carolina), knocked out power for over 1 million people, and resulted in 44 deaths.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency. Federal, state, and local officials mounted a strong first response: State troopers, the Marine Corps, National Guard soldiers, and volunteers rescued over 5,000 people from floodwaters. Volunteer groups partnered with area churches to set up distribution centers and food kitchens and to tarp roofs, muck out homes, and clear debris.
“Disaster relief trucks rolled in the day the storm rolled out,” said Chad Brewer, campus pastor of Port City Community Church in New Bern, N.C.
Congress initially approved $1.14 billion for North Carolina disaster relief in October 2018. U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., called the measure a “downpayment” of federal aid for long-term recovery. But recently, lawmakers failed to pass a fuller $13 billion disaster relief package that would have provided more relief for the state, as well as aid for Florida, Georgia, California, and the Midwest. Democrats rejected the package, arguing it did not include enough funding for Puerto Rico.
They introduced their own $17.2 billion disaster aid package that offers more funding for the territory. Republicans wary of passing anything President Donald Trump won’t sign have argued that the dispute over funding for Puerto Rico should not hold up aid for other areas hammered by disasters. Trump has accused Puerto Rican leaders of mismanaging the $11 billion in aid they have received so far. Unable to resolve the dispute, lawmakers left for a two-week spring recess in the middle of April. After reconvening on April 29, they are in the throes of hammering out a compromise.
North Carolina state legislators designated $400 million for initial recovery spending, with an additional $450 million for future recovery.