Governor promises rapid response

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Easley says state, FEMA will foot the bill for hurricane recovery

By Cal Bryant

News Editor

AHOSKIE – Winds of a friendly nature descended upon Ahoskie on Tuesday afternoon.

With the stiff breeze from a helicopter scattering the leaves on what few trees remained on the Hertford County High School campus, North Carolina Governor Mike Easley emerged from the aircraft upon landing and later addressed local public officials in the school cafeteria.

Without hesitation, Gov. Easley promised full support from the state as the Roanoke-Chowan area, as well as most of northeastern North Carolina, attempts to get back on their feet after being blown over by Hurricane Isabel’s powerful winds. In Hertford County alone, preliminary damage estimates are between $6-10 million. Those estimates are considered on the low end.

&uot;Ya’ll took a pretty good licking here,&uot; said the Governor. &uot;We’ve been hearing from the different counties here in the east that they received damage, but when you see it first-hand, it’s bad.&uot;

Easley, who flew over the R-C area on Saturday en route to survey the damage along the Outer Banks, praised local officials on the progress they have made in storm recovery since that time.

&uot;Ya’ll have made an awful lot of progress on your debris removal since the weekend,&uot; he noted. &uot;Your (Ahoskie) Town Manager (Russell Overman) told me that they decided to ‘just get on it’ rather than waiting for state and federal help to arrive.&uot;

That help as referred to by Easley will come in the form of FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency). They, according to the Governor, will foot 75 percent of the bill with state or local government responsible for picking-up the remaining 25 percent.

&uot;I know you local officials are wondering whom exactly will pick-up that 25 percent match,&uot; Easley stated. &uot;I’m here to tell you that the state will pick-up that tab. I don’t know for certain where we’ll find that money; we may have to ask the state agencies to cut back even more, but we’ll get it somewhere. We will get you what you need.&uot;

Citing that Hertford County does not have the money to foot the 25 percent local share, Commissioner DuPont Davis pressed the Governor to reconfirm his commitment for the state to pay the bill.

&uot;I will get that money somewhere,&uot; Easley promised.

The Governor also promised support if the storm-ravaged eastern counties did not have the reserve funds to pay for specific recovery items.

&uot;If you run into a snag with those payments, please let us know and we’ll front you the money,&uot; he said. &uot;We will find a way to make things happen for you.&uot;

Easley also promised a more rapid response in the need for ice, tarps, MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat) and generators. He said he would also speed up the process for the hardest hit counties to receive their emergency food stamps.

&uot;Promise me that when you receive a fresh shipment of supplies, if you don’t need all that was shipped, please pass them along to the counties that have a greater need for those supplies,&uot; urged the Governor.

Easley also addressed an expected problem with the mosquito population in the wake of the storm.

&uot;Triple-E and West Nile (two mosquito-borne viruses that have plagued North Carolina all summer) are for real here in our state,&uot; he stressed. &uot;There has been some discussion among state government concerning aerial spraying to combat the mosquito problem.&uot;

To that, Hertford County Manager Don Craft replied, &uot;That would be of great help to us.&uot;

Easley also addressed the dark side of the storm – price gouging at businesses.

&uot;Let your Sheriff know of any occurrences concerning price gouging,&uot; noted Easley. &uot;You can also contact the state Attorney General’s office about price gouging. I’ll bet you those businesses engaging in purposely inflating prices during storm recovery and the eventual rebuilding process will not be doing a lot of business once the word gets out.&uot;

In addition, the Governor announced a special program to help small businesses affected by the hurricane.

&uot;Ninety-six percent of all business in North Carolina employ 100 or less people,&uot; he said. &uot;Of that, 77 percent employ 10 or less workers. With that in mind, if we let small business languish in a time like this, you can easily erode a large part of your local economy. We are in the process of working through several state agencies as well as our state university system to help prop up these small businesses in their time of need.&uot;

The Governor also touched upon issues such as agriculture assistance and short-term unemployment benefits for those who could not report to work or had their place of employment closed due to the storm.