State, federal officials tally damage

Posted April 18, 2011 12:02 p.m. EDT
Updated April 18, 2011 7:27 p.m. EDT

— Emergency management teams on Monday were assessing damage from tornadoes that ripped through North Carolina Saturday. But state officials said it might be the end of the week before the full extent of the disaster is clear.

State Crime Control and Public Safety spokeswoman Julia Jarema said the Federal Emergency Management Agency arrived in the state late Saturday night.

Jarema said federal and state officials are working together on preliminary damage assessment teams and meeting with county emergency management officials to tally homes and property that were damaged or destroyed. Crews started work in Cumberland and Greene counties Sunday.

Teams were surveying damage in Bertie, Bladen, Cumberland, Halifax, Harnett, Johnston, Lee, Onslow, Pitt, Robeson, Wake and Wilson counties on Monday.

Once areas have been surveyed, state emergency management officials will compile the damage estimates to see which areas, if any, qualify for individual or community  financial assistance from the federal government.

Jarema said her agency is also working to confirm the number of people killed and injured by the storms.

“There’s a lot of stuff going on out there, a lot of conflicting numbers," Jarema said. 

Initial reports indicate more than 130 homes have been destroyed and more than 700 damaged, some severely.

The estimated death toll in the state is 23. More than 125 people sought treatment for tornado-related injuries over the weekend at local emergency rooms. Facilities in Bertie, Cumberland, Johnston, Lee and Wake counties were particularly busy.

In Raleigh, officials said 63 single-family homes were destroyed and 184 homes sustained major damage. Officials said 851 homes received minor damage. 

Gov. Perdue issued a State of Emergency declaration late Saturday night and also waived weight restrictions on heavy trucks to allow relief supplies and crews to begin the recovery process. Local states of emergencies have also been declared. 

Attorney General Roy Cooper said the states of emergencies mean consumer protection experts are now authorized to investigate allegations of price gouging in 18 counties and cities - Bertie, Bladen, Cumberland, Greene, Halifax, Harnett, Hoke, Johnston, Lee, Onslow, Pender, Pitt, Robeson, Sampson, Wake and Wilson counties; and the cities of Dunn and Farmville.

Price gouging – or charging an unreasonably excessive amount in times of crisis – is against North Carolina law when a disaster, an emergency or an abnormal market disruption for critical goods and services is declared by the governor or local governments. The law also applies to all levels of the supply chain from the manufacturer to the distributor to the retailer.

To report price gouging, call the Consumer Protection Division at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM (toll-free within North Carolina) or by fill out a price gouging complaint form online.

Cooper on Monday also warned consumers to beware of scams arising from the disaster.

So far, Jarema said state and federal officials haven’t had to set up tent camps or feeding stations for displaced residents. Most of the aid has been handled by county services. As of Monday morning, seven shelters remained open. Two others were closed because they weren’t needed.

Other than damage assessment, the state’s main role is helping to coordinate county requests for “mutual aid” help from other counties, Jarema said.

“We’ve been sending search and rescue teams, law enforcement support and fire and rescue help” from unaffected counties to those worst hit, Jarema said.

In coming days, most requests will probably be for chainsaw teams to help clear debris, she said. 

Jarema said people who need assistance with storm damage should contact their local county emergency management.

“That’s the first step in the process,” she said. “If you have additional needs, let your local emergency management know.”

Property owners with insurance should report damage as soon as possible to get that process started as well, she added.

Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin provided these insurance tips for North Carolinians dealing with property damage: 

  • Contact your insurance agent/company. If you suffer property loss in your home or vehicle, contact your insurance agent or company as soon as possible to arrange a visit from an adjuster. 
  • Document damage. Before doing any repairs to your home, photograph and make a list of the damage.
  • Make temporary repairs only. Until you get advice from your insurance company, protect your home from further damage by making temporary repairs only. Save any receipts for materials purchased for repairs.
  • Agree on cost of permanent repairs. Do not have permanent repairs made until your insurance company has inspected your property, and you have reached an agreement on the cost of repairs.
  • Consider renting shelter. If necessary, rent temporary shelter. If your home is uninhabitable, most homeowners policies pay additional living expenses while your property is being repaired. Before renting temporary shelter, check with your insurance company or agent to determine what expenses will be reimbursed.
  • Find out if food is covered. Unless you have extra coverage with your homeowners policy, food lost in a power outage is probably not covered. Consider purchasing an endorsement to cover food losses in the future.
  • Check your policy before hiring tree removal services. Most damage to your home or surrounding structures resulting from fallen trees is covered by your homeowners policy. Check with your agent or company before calling a tree removal service, as removal costs may also be covered.
  • Determine whether your auto insurance policy covers damage from fallen trees or debris. Your insurance company may cover this kind of damage if you have comprehensive coverage. Check with your agent to determine whether your vehicle is covered.

The Department of Insurance Consumer Services Division is available to assist with insurance-related questions or complaints. They can be reached at 1-800-546-5664 (toll free in North Carolina) or 919-807-6750.

Debris pickup information

The North Carolina Department of Transportation will pick up storm-related debris along state-maintained roads in severely-impacted areas. Pick-up is expected to begin later this week. 

NCDOT officials also offered the following tips:

  • Check your homeowners insurance as often debris cleanup is covered by insurance and arrangements for its collection will be handled by the insurance company.
  • NCDOT will collect vegetation debris such as trees and limbs, as well as building materials, but they must be separated.
  • Property owners are asked to cut storm-related debris into 5- or 6-foot pieces, if possible, and place it along the roadway, but out of travel lanes.
  • Major appliances, household hazardous materials such as paint, propane tanks, etc., and other similar materials will not be collected. It’s recommended that property owners contact their county emergency management office regarding how to dispose of those items.
  • The NCDOT will collect furniture damaged by the tornadoes. 

Wake County is collecting storm debris to aid in clean-up efforts at various sites in the area.