President orders federal aid to six N.C. counties

Posted October 14, 2010 4:34 p.m. EDT
Updated October 14, 2010 6:27 p.m. EDT

— President Barack Obama ordered federal aid on Thursday to supplement state and local recovery efforts for six North Carolina counties struck by severe storms, flooding and straight-line winds between Sept. 27 and Oct. 1.

The funding makes federal funds available to residents in Beaufort, Bertie, Craven, Hertford, Onslow and Tyrrell counties.

Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster.

Homeowners can get up to $240,000 in low-interest loans to replace their homes and some belongings. Renters can qualify for up to $40,000.

Anyone who doesn’t qualify for a loan may be eligible for grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

State emergency officials say more than 420 homes and 60 businesses in the six counties were damaged or completely destroyed.

Total statewide damage estimates are still being compiled.

The heavy rains two weeks ago caused flooding in the eastern part of the state worse than when Hurricane Floyd hit the area 11 years ago.

Windsor, the Bertie County seat, saw some of the worst flooding in the state, with more than 200 homes and businesses damaged.

On Thursday, cleanup efforts were in full swing. Crews were working to haul away mountains of debris.

Business owner Ted Shaw said his pool supply store was one of only a handful of business re-opened on the main street through town.

"As soon as the water went down everybody started to work, basically tear all the carpet out and replace the flooring," he said.

Shaw had flood insurance to help repair his shop, but many did not.

"I think it's important to get debris out of our area, psychologically it makes it easier when you don't have to look at all you've lost," said Allen Castello, the town administrator.

Through a federal buyout program after Hurricane Floyd dozens of homes in Windsor were either removed or raised. Town officials say that helped reduce damage this time around and that program could be a possibility again.

"Now we've had it happen twice, so we know it could happen again and we need to try to alleviate as much of that on our business owners and homeowners as we can," Castello said.

For now, an army of volunteers, including The North Carolina Baptist Men, is helping residents pick up the pieces.

“The spirit in the town here has been the best of any place we've ever been. Neighbors helping neighbors. Everybody is pitching in,” volunteer Will Arant said.

Town leaders said any decisions about buyout programs and other mitigation is months away.

Residents and business owners who sustained losses in the designated counties can begin applying for  federal assistance on Friday by registering online or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or 1-800-462-7585 (TTY) for the hearing and speech impaired. The numbers will operate from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week until further notice.