The epic flooding of Hurricane Matthew, which attacked the southeastern United States in October of last year, is gone, but its consequences remain painfully present for as many as 2,000 North Carolina families now living in the community of limbo.
As The News & Observer’s Martha Quillin reported Sunday, those families lost their homes in the flooding and remain displaced in hotels and motels or in mobile homes. Mostly, they are in living spaces a fraction of the size of those in which they were living. And they must deal, in terms of some kind of restoration of their lives, with the bureaucracy of federal and state agencies charged with helping people through the aftermath of disasters.
First, make no mistake: the people who work for those agencies are eager and willing to help, and thousands of those affected by the flooding have been helped with tens of millions of dollars in federal and state aid. But often in the aftermath of disaster, the initial burst of help diminishes over time and many families who were barely scraping by before a disaster have more trouble digging out of a crisis. And dealing with the bureaucracy is no mean feat: homes must be appraised, ownership certified, grants put in motion.
Gov. Roy Cooper has expressed his alarm, and it might be wise for Cooper to visit the places where people still are homeless. That might raise awareness for Republican legislators as well.
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Unfortunately, Democrat Cooper isn’t likely to get the same quick response from the federal government that former Gov. Jim Hunt got in 1999 after Hurricane Floyd. With Bill Clinton in the White House (and with North Carolinian Erskine Bowles as his chief of staff) Hunt got $4 billion in aid, and got it quickly.
And what about North Carolina’s rainy day fund, which Republicans ran up to $1.6 billion as of the end of last year? GOP legislators are hesitant to use the money, but with an economy that’s healthy, why not put some more of that money to use for these flood victims?
Officialdom needs to constantly explain to families in these crises situations that the delays in help should not be interpreted as disinterest, and that victims should not throw up their hands in frustration, though their impatience is understandable.
And while government takes on the big picture, help for disaster victims remains effective at the local level, in churches and relief agencies who can provide funding and clothes and food for as long as it takes. That’s one important, continuing message out of all of this: Just because waters have gone away doesn’t mean assistance can be put on the shelf. For those flooded out, the need for help still is very much present.