Hurricanes

Florence damage estimate in NC nearing $17B

Posted October 31, 2018 3:58 p.m. EDT
Updated October 31, 2018 8:01 p.m. EDT

— Hurricane Florence caused an estimated $16.7 billion in damage in North Carolina, up from initial estimates of $13 billion, state officials said Wednesday.

The original figure was based on projections from aerial surveys of flood damage, officials said, while the updated figure is based on actual inspections on the ground. The damage figure is expected to continue to rise as more aid applications are submitted.

Just this week, the Federal Emergency Management Agency added Durham, Chatham and Guilford to the list of counties where people are eligible for disaster assistance.

For Lois and Robert Willett, the move was long overdue. The couple moved to a Chatham County home, less than a mile from the Deep River, two weeks before Florence hit. The flooded river pushed 20 inches of water inside.

"It all went. We got some clothes, tools. I lost all my children's pictures," a sobbing Lois Willett said Wednesday.

"We had no flood insurance. Homeowners insurance said, 'No, it was caused by a flood.' They washed their hands," Robert Willett said.

FEMA declared Lee County, which is just across the river, a disaster area earlier, but not Chatham County.

"How can you just lose everything you worked for in 12 hours and have nobody help you?" Lois Willett asked.

Steve Newton, emergency management director for Chatham County, said damage in the county wasn't widespread. Only three homes were destroyed and a dozen, including the Willetts' were heavily damaged.

"With a smaller area impacted, we have to do our due diligence in demonstrating that we have the damage [and] the ability to recover may not be there," Newton said.

County and state assessment teams had to make the case to FEMA that people like the Willetts needed the financial help – homeowners can apply for low-interest loans of up to $200,000 – that would come with a disaster declaration.

"Right now, we have hope. We have faith in the Lord to get us through," Robert Willett said.

Damage to housing, businesses and agriculture accounts for about 80 percent of the total, according to a state report.

About 1.2 million households were affected by the hurricane, from damage to homes, vehicles and personal property. When combined with the temporary housing and food assistance these families received following the storm, officials said the damage to this sector of the economy topped $5.3 billion.

Meanwhile, more than 3,800 business sustained water damage from the storm, and more than 23,000 incurred wind damage, officials said. When the damage is combined with the days of lost operations and sales, Florence caused close to $5.7 billion in business damage.

North Carolina's agricultural sector sustained about $2.4 billion in damage, officials said, with lost crops and livestock accounting for almost all of that total.

State officials said private insurance will likely cover $4.6 billion of the damage, and federal aid will take care of another $2.5 billion. The General Assembly has already appropriated $800 million for hurricane recovery, but officials said that still leaves an $8.8 billion gap that will need to be met by a combination of federal, state and private aid.

Florence's damage is more than Hurricane Matthew and Hurricane Floyd combined, officials said. Matthew caused about $4.8 billion in damage two years ago, and Floyd's damage in 1999, when adjusted for inflation, was between $7 billion and $9.4 billion.