After Matthew: Still waiting for help

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – Many people across the East are still waiting for help nearly a year and half since Hurricane Matthew hit.

From coastal communities who dealt with pounding waves and flooding, to inland communities who saw flooding the likes of which haven’t been since since Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

Matthew caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage, primarily in the eastern part of the state.

“We need the help now. We needed the help then, and it’s been over a year, and we’re still suffering,” said Iriena Becerril-White, who experienced flooding Stokes.

Becerril-White lives with her elderly mother. Due to flooding and damage to their home, the roof was destroyed, the ceiling is caving in, and they haven’t been able to run air conditioning or heat since October 2016 due to mold.

“Whenever it gets cold, there’s actually ice on the windows,” she said.

Despite having tens of thousands of dollars in damages, FEMA denied the family help. They are on the list for state assistant, but have only had a contractor come out to look at the damage — no work has been done yet.

Further south in Lenoir County, historic floods left portions of the county under water.

“We’re being told we’re a tier one buy out home, but yet nothing is happening, so we feel like we’re on hold,” said Joseph Noble.

Noble and his wife were forced to live in temporary housing with their three kids for more than 11 months. Despite FEMA promising to help pay rent, the payments stopped coming, and the Nobles were left paying rent and mortgage at the same time.

“I’m a public educator,” he said. “My wife is a part time nurse. We do not have the income to be paying both of those.”

In Bertie County, downtown Windsor was submerged in as much as four feet of water. Duane Jones and his family had several feet of water in the downstairs of their home.

“You could see the water coming up in the heat vents getting closer and closer to the floor,” Jones said.

FEMA estimated more than $59,000 worth of damage, but despite that, Jones has only received $13,000 so far.

WNCT took the concerns of the people to the state leaders who represent them.

“Both the federal, and the state government, need to step up with additional funding,” said Gov. Roy Cooper.

In December 2016, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a disaster relief bill of $200 million. Later in Spring 2017, they added $100 million to disaster relief.

Despite that, North Carolina’s recovery has been slower than surrounding states.

“We’re about 9 to 10 months behind South Carolina as far as the housing side,” said Republican House Majority Leader John Bell.

Bell, who now chairs the disaster relief committee, said bureaucratic red tape in the state is likely slowing down the process.

“It’s requested from the federal government, it gets put down to the state. The state then disperses it down to through local government. The local governments then have to disperse it out from there,” Bell said. “Is that effective, I don’t know the answer to that.”

Currently, lawmakers are meeting with various departments in the state to determine where more money is needed.

“Look at where the funding has been spent. If any has not been spent, why hasn’t it been spent,” said Bell.

Those waiting for buyouts may have to wait a bit longer due to recent disasters in California, Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

Flood victims are left wondering when more help will arrive, but choose to remain optimistic.

“You’ve got to persevere, you’ve got to keep your head up,” said Noble. “You’ve got to remember that this is about you and your family. This is about a promise and we need to hold those who have made those promises accountable.”

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