February 1, 2012

Hurricane victims still seek answers at community meeting


By ANNE C. BOWERS


Victims of Hurricane Irene filled the Rodanthe Community Center Monday night, Jan. 30, for a disaster recovery meeting as many families and businesses in the northern Hatteras Island villages struggle through the rebuilding process.

 Even five months after Hurricane Irene decimated several areas north of Buxton, there are still people who have not started to rebuild and others whose recovery efforts have stalled, caught in a quagmire of red tape, paperwork, and misinformation.

The newly formed Dare County Long-Term Recovery Team brought together several local experts and organizational heads at the Monday meeting to answer questions from the islanders who are trying to put their lives back together after the storm.

 John Benson and Jodi Howard, two Hatteras Island residents who are case managers for the Long-Term Recovery Team, saw a mounting level of irritation from people after months of fighting insurance companies or adjusters or finding no money to fix or replace what Hurricane Irene had taken from them.

 To better serve the community and provide accurate information, Benson and Howard felt a group meeting was necessary so more people could be reached at once to hear about some new programs recently made available to them.

 Benson began the meeting by telling the attendees that they were there “to help people who have run out of options.  We are willing to help, to talk, whatever…”   

Seven speakers covered pertinent topics regarding recovery programs without microphone or notes and answered questions from the crowd.

The first speaker was Chuck Poe, who represented the Outer Banks Community Development Program and had several options for mortgages in distress, whether it was storm-related or not.  He explained that there are grant programs to help catch payments for those who are behind in their mortgage payments or loan modification programs to lower interest rates.

Poe spoke of a brand new program available through the Federal Home Loan Bank that would provide up to $15,000 to increase the energy efficiency for the household by replacing old windows, heat pumps, roofs, or even appliances.  This money can also be available to make a house handicapped accessible by building ramps or widening doorways for easier wheelchair access.

 There are different programs available for people 62 and older, and another one that would provide $45,000 to renovate your home any way you please, which Poe referred to as a “soft second mortgage.” 

 Some loans were as low as 1 percent to be repaid over 20 years or issued as a grant, which doesn’t need to be repaid.

“The applications are not difficult,” Poe explained.  “Grants are good as long as you live in your home 365 days a year and it is your only home.” 

To handle insurance questions, Dan Thorn from National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), a division of FEMA, was on hand to clarify some rules and facts about the Increased Cost Compliance (ICC), which has been a problem for many homeowners and also for some Dare County officials.

Increased Cost Compliance refers to local building requirements to reduce future flood damage before beginning to repair or rebuild.  Up to $30,000 can be available through NFIP for all new and renewed Standard Flood Insurance Policies to help pay the costs associated with bringing homes into compliance.  People can take up to four years to file a claim.

 Craig Parker, representing the Methodist Men of Wanchese, explained that he has organized volunteer groups to come in and help the community rebuild.

 “We will help you with anything you need help with,” Parker said.  “There are people in the area who haven’t even seen an adjuster yet.”

 Parker further said that all the labor is completely free.

 “Don’t feel like you have to house them or feed them,” he said.  “They are staying at the church, roughing it, sleeping on air mattresses.”

 Speaking on behalf of the North Carolina Baptist Men, Billy Layton offered free labor to anyone who needs help.

 “Just provide the materials,” said Layton.   The group is staying at the Salvo Fire Department and will be around through August.

Jodi Howard later said that the “Baptist Men have agreed to build five houses as along as the materials are provided.

 Donna Creef, Planning Director for Dare County, touched briefly on some insurance issues that she was seeing and reminded folks that estimates need to come from North Carolina contractors only.  She added that building permit fees had been waived for any construction resulting from the hurricane.

 Jenny Gray Jones from Dare County Grants and Waterways offered a new program that could provide a long-term answer for those needing a solution to raising their homes.

 “It takes 18 months before any grant is approved,” said Jones.

 She explained that structure has to be good condition, must be a year-round residence of the owner and is available to stick-built homes only, no trailers.

 Speaking to the emotional problems that some have faced, Ron Lowe organized support groups every Tuesday in Frisco and Avon that began in early January. 

 “I am willing to do one in Rodanthe, too,” offered Lowe.  “If you are feeling overwhelmed, we can provide emotional help – even if you just want to scream.  The frustration following the storm has been so thick that you could cut it with a knife.”
He also spoke of a mobile crisis unit that can be at your doorstep in two hours, all at no cost.

The meeting was efficient and provided answers on a variety of issues from the people in the know.  There were no handouts or flyers to take home.  All the speakers were available to talk one-on-one with attendees directly following the meeting.

 In spite of the dissatisfaction of many folks who attended the meeting, their questions were straight forward, nearly devoid of emotion.  They appeared worn and tired, ready for this ordeal to end.  But, for many, the end is a long way down the road.
 “They are beat down,” Creef said after the meeting.

 “There are so many people frustrated with the ICC process,” says Howard.  “Houses got flooded that were in compliance.”

The Dare County Long-Term Recovery Team will stay in place even after the issues with Hurricane Irene have ended and will be able to quickly support the community in case of any future national disasters. 

 The mission statement of the team is “To bring together non-profit organizations, faith-based organizations, government agencies and corporate partners to effectively respond to the human needs that result from disasters.”


FOR MORE INFORMATION

Hurricane Irene recovery information from the Dare County Long-Term Disaster Recovery Committee, a collaborative effort of government and volunteer organizations is available on Facebook at
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Dare-County-Long-Term-Disaster-Recovery-Committee/277355008986840?sk=wall

You do not have to be logged in or have a Facebook account to read this page. Included are listings of general information about  disaster recovery resources. 

On Hatteras Island, Jodi Howard and John Benson, case managers for the Long-Term Recovery Committee, are still available at 475-9346 to support people and help navigate through the recovery process. If you or someone you know needs assistance, including coordinating volunteer labor or supplies, please forward this information.

Chuck Poe of the Outer Banks Community Development Program can be reached at 480-2507 for more information about mortgage programs.

For more information about support groups for islanders struggling with emotional problems from the storm or meeting times, call Ron Lowe at 252-702-6515.



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