Local News

Officials Discuss Ways to Better Prepare for Hurricanes

Posted June 26, 1997 12:00 a.m. EDT

— Uncle Sam needs to react quicker next time a hurricane hits North Carolina, local officials say.

Area officials still filled with bad memories from hurricanes Fran and Bertha met with state emergency and coastal leaders Wednesday to plan a response to the next hurricane.

``We just wanted the opportunity for these folks to tell the state government what worked and what didn't,'' said David Sullivan, director of the state Disaster Recovery Center.

If another hurricane hits, local officials would like to see a quicker response from federal emergency officials, faster access to generators and other equipment, and better communication between all agencies involved.

Wednesday's meeting at Cape Fear Community College was one of three hurricane summits being held this week in coastal areas. A similar meeting was scheduled this morning in New Bern, and another Friday in Southern Shores. They are part of the recommendations made by a state task force on disaster recovery formed in response to Fran and Bertha.

``It was far from the worst-case scenario,'' said Eric Tolbert, director of state emergency management. ``We need to be more prepared if we get hit again this summer.''

Complaints and suggestions from local officials centered around delays in response from state and federal groups after last summer's hurricanes.

Local officials complained about delays in getting reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Carolina Beach town planner Jeff Harris said his community had a hard time continuing to pay for repairs out of its budget before reimbursements from FEMA arrived.

Harris suggested FEMA be able to tell communities more quickly what they are eligible for and what to expect in refunds.

``Anybody who thinks they are going to get a free lunch off FEMA is sadly mistaken,'' said John Nesbitt, Wrightsville Beach public works director.

Nesbitt said his town may end up having to spend about $250,000 of its own money for hurricane recovery and that it would have helped to know sooner what FEMA was going to cover.

Nesbitt also complained about dealing with different teams of state and federal officials who offered varying information.

``We had one come in and say it would cost $360,000 to fix a bulkhead and one say it would cost $4,000,'' he said.

Another request was for immediate access to generators and debris-removing equipment.

``We need someone who would be responsible for allocating those things,'' said Wade Horne, Bald Head Island's village manager. ``I'm sure it was available, but no one knew how to get to it.''

State emergency officials said the greatest lesson they learned was that they were terribly understaffed. They have since had to hire about 80 people to help with hurricane recovery, and are working to establish a pool of people qualified to help with things like grant administration, Tolbert said.

State officials also are moving toward implementing the task force recommendations. Among them are buying land in hazardous coastal areas to avoid paying for repairs after storms, limiting public money for repairs in risky coastal areas, and requiring warnings about hazards to people buying property on barrier islands.

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