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Officials Discuss Ways to Better Prepare for Hurricanes

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WILMINGTON (AP) — Uncle Sam needs to reactquicker next time ahurricane hits North Carolina, local officials say.

Area officials still filled with bad memories from hurricanesFran and Bertha met with state emergency and coastal leadersWednesday to plan a response to the next hurricane.

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

If another hurricane hits, local officials would like to see aquicker response from federal emergency officials, faster access togenerators and other equipment, and better communication betweenall agencies involved.

Wednesday's meeting at Cape Fear Community College was one ofthree hurricane summits being held this week in coastal areas. Asimilar meeting was scheduled this morning in New Bern, and anotherFriday in Southern Shores. They are part of the recommendationsmade by a state task force on disaster recovery formed in responseto Fran and Bertha.

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

Complaints and suggestions from local officials centered arounddelays in response from state and federal groups after lastsummer's hurricanes.

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

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

``Anybody who thinks they are going to get a free lunch offFEMAis sadly mistaken,'' said John Nesbitt, Wrightsville Beach publicworks director.

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

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

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

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

``We need someone who would be responsible for allocating thosethings,'' 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 learnedwas that they were terribly understaffed. They have since had tohire about 80 people to help with hurricane recovery, and areworking to establish a pool of people qualified to help with thingslike grant administration, Tolbert said.

State officials also are moving toward implementing the taskforce recommendations. Among them are buying land in hazardouscoastal areas to avoid paying for repairs after storms, limitingpublic money for repairs in risky coastal areas, and requiringwarnings about hazards to people buying property on barrierislands.

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