Hundreds still seek housing months after Matthew

Posted December 9, 2016 6:08 p.m. EST

— Two months after flooding from Hurricane Matthew devastated parts of eastern North Carolina, hundreds of people remain homeless.

In Lumberton alone, more than 600 people are still in temporary housing, such as area motels. There just aren't enough available houses to accommodate the need.

"If there's some way FEMA can bring temporary shelters, trailers like they did (along the Gulf Coast) when I was down at (Hurricane) Katrina for those people to live in," said Teresa Harlee, who was flooded out of her Lumberton home.

"That would be a help because a lot of people are still staying in hotels, and that's not home when you can't cook your own meal," Harlee said. "Most people are tired of eating out. They want a home-cooked, hot meal, and they want to be able to relax."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is providing some mobile homes to people whose homes were flooded by Matthew, but it takes time to put them in place and get utilities connected.

FEMA spokeswoman Rita Egan said the agency also is working with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Governor's Long Term Recovery Program to find additional housing.

"We're using that as a bridge to get people more time and to get us time to see if there are any other housing or rental properties that they can move into on a more permanent basis," Egan said.

Wanda Renfrow said she had been moving from one relative's home to another with her mother and two grandchildren since the hurricane. It has been and continues to be a nightmare arrangement, she said.

"We just tried to find somewhere to go, tried to find relatives to say yes and finally found one, and we just left a relative's house into another family home that had to be repaired," Renfrow said.

Although students are back in school and businesses have reopened, the recovery in Robeson County is far from over. Flood-damaged debris still lines streets, and more than 17,000 residents have asked FEMA for help. About $21 million in aid has been approved so far, and FEMA plans to send experts to a Lowe's Home Improvement Store in Lumberton next Tuesday to answer question and offer home improvement tips for people handling their own repairs after the storm.

The community also is coming together, with residents helping one another. Donated clothing and other items are being collected and sorted at the Robeson County Church and Community Center warehouse, and more than 3,000 people have been helped free of charge since the store opened three weeks ago.

"They get the clothing, they get the blankets and the comforters, towels, wash cloths, socks, pants, shoes, whatever they need," program director Darlene Jacobs said.

"About everywhere we've been, there ain't been no problem getting any help from anywhere," said Nathaniel Matthew, who lost his home in the hurricane. "Like Thanksgiving, we were able to get some help from different places, went to different churches."

Statewide, 400 to 500 people are registering daily for federal recovery aid at FEMA offices in 45 counties.