On September 14, 2018, Hurricane Florence made landfall in the Cape Fear Region, bringing 15-30” of rain, 11 tornadoes, and 90 mph sustained winds and causing over $16 billion in damage in North Carolina. Immediately after the storm, leaders of businesses, nonprofits, churches, and government came together to develop response and recovery plans.
A few months later, I wrote about the formation of Long Term Disaster Recovery Groups (LTRGs) in each county to coordinate efforts to restore our community to wholeness.
A visitor from an LTRG in Houston, one year into Hurricane Harvey recovery, advised the New Hanover County LTRG to establish our coalition as a permanent group: to recover from Florence, prepare for and respond to future disasters, and address the chronic problems exposed and exacerbated by the storm.
“Recover from Florence, of course. But don’t just return to pre-storm normal. Use the connections, resources, and awareness generated by the storm to make your community even better than before,” he said. “Don’t waste this disaster.”
Three years later, I can tell you that we have taken his advice. The LTRG’s are still making a difference to Florence survivors and making broader change in our community. During this time, we have also responded to Hurricanes Dorian (2019) and Isaias (2020) as well as the Covid-19 pandemic… unified.
When hurricanes bear down, county Emergency Operations Centers (EOC) are activated. Each LTRG has a representative in their EOC, helping manage storm response and serving as a connection to the community partners. After the the EOC deactivates, the LTRGs keeping working.
Gov. Roy Cooper is still closely monitoring the recovery effort following Hurricane Florence, with a particular interest in the work being done in the Cape Fear region regarding home repairs. As the chair of each LTRG Construction Committee, WARM maintains a list of ongoing, needed, and completed hurricane-related repairs. Phil Triplett, State of North Carolina Voluntary Agency Liaison, shares this list in a weekly briefing with NC Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry and the governor, keeping them aware of the on-going unmet needs in the Cape Fear.
Today, LTRGs are still very active in hurricane response, with the focus shifting to resilience through urgent home repairs and disaster planning.
In Pender County’s LTRG, construction partners are working closely with county leaders and the Office of State Budget Management to make sure every penny of Disaster Recovery Act money is used to repair or replace homes for qualifying homeowners. They engaged Legal Aid of NC to assist residents with their FEMA claims and appeals, as well as rectifying Heir Property issues, which can complicate proof of ownership that FEMA requires.
On September 11, 2021 Brunswick County’s LTRG, known as Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (BRUNSCOVOAD), successfully hosted their first Hurricane Preparedness Expo with many partners participating to share valuable resources and information to the residents of Brunswick County. “BRUNSCOVOAD is the only LTRG in the state to respond to a disaster without a state or national declaration,” said Triplett enthusiastically, in reaction to BRUNSCOVOAD’s response to a February 2021 tornado.
In New Hanover County, the LTRG known as New Hanover Disaster Coalition (NHDC) works closely with the City of Wilmington and county governments to provide ongoing Covid-19 response, including providing locations for vaccine clinics, disseminating information to the public through trusted sources, and providing food and financial assistance where necessary.
WARM recently began serving Duplin and Onslow Counties. Their LTRG’s are also very active; the members welcomed us with open arms and helped us get plugged into the communities.
As I reflect on the struggles and achievements of the past three years, I can honestly say we’ve given our best to our community’s long-term recovery and addressing its chronic problems… together. We have absolutely not wasted this disaster.