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Hurricane Matthew Brought Out Strength, Will of Municipalities 

By Ben Brown, NCLM Advocacy Communication Associate

It’s hard to find an obvious, localized starting point in the conversation about Hurricane Matthew’s destruction.

The record-setting October storm beset so many North Carolina communities in so many ways, with statewide rippling impacts that included 25 to 30 deaths along with heartbreaking losses of property and setbacks for livelihoods.

It had been so long since the state – which has seen a huge influx of residential growth over the past decade – last felt a hurricane of this magnitude. But its cities, counties and state and federal governments were nothing if not prepared to respond and share resources.

Zoom in on any of North Carolina’s affected municipalities for the story.

Elizabethtown, for one, took a hard hit. The Bladen County town of about 3,600 people along the Cape Fear River, roughly 60 miles from the coast, saw flooded homes, broken transportation routes and a colossal mess of debris.

It also felt a massive gust of support from fellow municipalities who couldn’t bear to see their friends down.

Just as Elizabethtown’s leaders were getting a plan together for the cleanup and recovery, calls came in from the towns of Maiden and Rutherfordton in the drier, western third of the state, offering aid and services like debris collection. The towns deployed employees and special equipment and, according to officials, together hauled nearly 160 tons of debris from Elizabethtown.

"The Town of Elizabethtown will be forever grateful to these towns," Elizabethtown Town Manager Eddie Madden told the League, adding that the town council at its Nov. 7 meeting adopted resolutions in recognition and appreciation, and to say that Elizabethtown would always be there to help its friends however possible. Elizabethtown also sent gift baskets, containing local products, to town managers Todd Herms of Maiden and Doug Barrick of Rutherfordton.

Southern City readers should know well that this wasn’t an isolated story. Mutual aid is a great strength of cities, towns and counties across the state.

Rutherfordton also called on the public through social media and requested the donation of goods that local responders could ship to storm-battered communities, like those in coastal Craven County. The town tweeted out a photo of a forklift at a Rutherford County fire station loaded with basic, family necessities.

Social media ended up being a shining tool for municipalities’ connection with residents during Matthew, not only for donation efforts, but also for storm preparedness, beat-by-beat weather updates and timely information in the aftermath.

Greenville Mayor Allen Thomas hardly ever paused on Facebook and Twitter as the Tar River swelled and locals needed information on evacuations, curfews and shelters. He also pitched volunteer opportunities. City of Greenville web staffers were just as prolific.  

The City of Raleigh in the aftermath used social media to, among other things, spread word that it would provide hot showers to residents without power and would waive fees at its yard-waste center to "make it a little easier."

And the City of Fayetteville, which saw great amounts of local damage, shared helpful social media updates during site visits from state officials.

Again, not isolated examples.

It was no surprise, then, that the League saw strong participation in its collaborative efforts to help North Carolina recover and update plans for future weather. The League partnered with the N.C. Association of Feed America Food Banks to raise funds, made sure municipalities knew about readynclocal.org (the League’s preparedness and recovery service for local governments), joined the governor’s hurricane recovery committee, shared every update on storm-aid eligibility, paired with the N.C. Association of County Commissioners (NCACC) to hold input sessions with local government leaders on what it would take to restore communities, and relayed this information to state and federal policymakers in letters from League President Bob Matheny and NCACC President Fred McClure.

These efforts played a big role in the $200 million disaster-relief legislation that came out of the third special session of the General Assembly for local governments, individuals and businesses to get back on their feet after Hurricane Matthew as well as the later disaster that brought out similar responsiveness – the western North Carolina wildfires. Legislators have indicated that more proposals aimed at helping communities damaged by the natural disasters will be coming in the long session.

The legislation passed included:

  • $20 million to the state-controlled Golden LEAF foundation to provide grants to local governments to construct new infrastructure supporting the development of new residential structures in areas outside the 100-year floodplain, or repair or replace existing infrastructure. Eligible infrastructure includes water, sewer, sidewalks, storm drainage, and other, similar projects that provide assistance or relief for Hurricane Matthew, the western wildfires, and Tropical Storms Julia and Hermine.
  • $5 million to Golden LEAF for grants to eligible entities capable of making loans to small businesses affected by Hurricane Matthew, the western wildfires, or Tropical Storms Julia and Hermine.
  • $10 million to the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for disaster-related infrastructure and cleanup needs, including fixes to wastewater and drinking water systems, dam safety, emergency permitting, and solid-waste cleanup. DEQ shall allocate a portion of these funds to assist local governments to mitigate impacts on burial sites and for other public health-protection efforts.
  • $11.5 million to the N.C. Division of Emergency Management (DEM) for resilient redevelopment planning. The bill specifies that these dollars must go into the oversight and facilitation of strategic resiliency planning meetings at each of the 49 counties that received major disaster declarations related to Hurricane Matthew along with the five economic regions that the storm affected; into the development of strategic, resilient redevelopment plans for each of the 49 counties; into the oversight and submission of county-approved strategic resiliency action plans for federal approval; and into the provision of redevelopment expertise, technical assistance, and administrative support to the 49 counties and economic regions throughout the planning, design, and implementation of action plans.
  • $9 million to DEM to develop, implement and fund disaster assistance programs to meet the emergency sheltering and short term housing needs of individuals affected by Hurricane Matthew, the western wildfires, and Tropical Storms Julia and Hermine.