Weather

Relief efforts ramp up for storm victims

Posted April 19, 2011 9:13 p.m. EDT
Updated April 20, 2011 9:32 p.m. EDT

— The death toll from North Carolina's worst tornado outbreak in nearly three decades has risen to 24, as the state and federal governments and private citizens alike ramped up relief efforts Wednesday.

Mary Williams, 50, of Colerain, died after being in critical condition at Pitt Memorial Hospital in Greenville, Bertie County Manager Zee Lamb said. She lived in a group home where two other people also died.

Williams' death brings the death toll to 12 in the poor, rural county.

So far, the count for the storms' damage stands at 133 people seriously injured, 21 businesses and 439 homes destroyed and 92 businesses and 6,189 houses significantly damaged, including more than 5,000 in Wake County. Those numbers were expected to rise as crews continue to assess damage.

The damage to businesses has left 2,000 people jobless, including 1,000 employees of Static Control in Sanford, Gov. Beverly Perdue said. Some will be without work for two weeks, while others will be unemployed long-term.

The governor praised Lowe's and Food Lion for helping their employees find alternative work. Lowe's is even helping them with transportation, she said.

Twelve supercell thunderstorms produced at least 25 tornadoes Saturday, hitting at least 32 counties, according to the National Weather Service. It was the worst tornado outbreak in North Carolina since 1984.

Perdue praised the response of state agencies and North Carolina residents.

"On Saturday, we were devastated," she said. "On Sunday morning, as we all began to wake up and see the damage, you saw instances of people out beginning to rebuild.

"By Monday morning, I was able to proclaim on nationwide TV that, regardless of what happened, North Carolina was open once again for business," she continued. "That's the resilience of our people."

Scott Spaccarotella said he's shaken by the damage to his Raleigh home but was surprised by the quick response.

"The work crews came down and threw all the (utility) poles within 30 minutes. It's really cool," Spaccarotella said.

Perdue signed an executive order on Wedneday to speed the cleanup by allowing state crews to remove debris from agricultural fields. Without the order, farmers would have to move debris to a state right-of-way for removal. She also signed legislation that relaxes restrictions on burning or burying storm debris.

The governor said that she has been in direct contact with the Obama administration to speed up federal disaster assistance.

President Barack Obama signed a declaration disaster Tuesday for Bertie, Bladen, Cumberland, Halifax, Harnett, Johnston, Lee, Onslow, Wake and Wilson counties. Other counties will be added as federal and state teams further assess damage.

"This is really fast," Perdue said. "I've done these with hurricanes for years, and it often takes time."

The declaration lets individuals and businesses in the affected counties apply for federal aid, including grants for temporary housing and home repairs and low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses.

North Carolina will match 25 percent of the federal funds.

Homeowners can apply for up to $240,000 in low-interest federal loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration to repair or replace their homes and some personal belongings. Renters can apply for up to $40,000 to replace personal belongings, and business Owners can apply for up to $2 million for business property losses.

Anybody who doesn’t qualify for loans may be eligible for an individual assistance grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help repair and replace personal property.

Funding is also available to state and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for debris removal and emergency protective measures in Bertie, Bladen, Craven, Cumberland, Currituck, Greene, Halifax, Harnett, Hertford, Hoke, Johnston, Lee, Onslow, Pitt, Robeson, Sampson, Wake and Wilson counties.

To begin the process of applying for federal aid, contact FEMA by calling 1-800-621-3362 or through FEMA's website.

The state has also requested that U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack declare an agricultural disaster, but state officials said farmers who endured damage can immediately apply at their county Farm Service offices for aid from two state programs. The conservation program can help farmers with debris removal so they can start planting again, while the livestock program will help farmers recoup losses such as livestock and poultry.

For information on state aid, call the NC Hotline at 1-888-835-9966.

The Internal Revenue Service has postponed until June 30 the deadlines for taxpayers who live or have a business in the counties covered by the disaster declaration, including Monday's deadline for 2010 individual income tax returns.

Perdue urged people to contribute to relief efforts and said she's gone through her pantry and closet for items to donate. She established the North Carolina Disaster Relief Fund, which can accept online donations.

"I don't ever doubt for a fact that the people of North Carolina will want to help us back up our neighbors and our friends," she said.