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Storm recovery effort ongoing in Bertie County

WINDSOR – Nearly six weeks after a tornado left death and destruction in its wake, Bertie County officials remain actively involved in assisting the victims of that Aug. 4 storm.

Mitch Cooper, Bertie’s Emergency Services Director, updated the county commissioners at their scheduled meeting here Tuesday about the ongoing recovery efforts.

Along the twister’s path, 41 families still remain displaced. Cooper said eight of those families are currently residing temporarily in mobile travel trailers.

“We’re working this week to set up seven more travel trailers,” Cooper said.

He stated that 10 families were living in motel rooms as of Tuesday while 16 others have found temporary shelter with family members or friends. The remainder of those displaced are seeking other housing opportunities.

Bertie was declared eligible by the state for individual public assistance.

“Registration was open for two weeks; that is now closed,” Cooper shared.

He said the county is seeking a FEMA declaration for emergency response and debris clean-up. The total requested amount is $160,855

“The things we need right now in Emergency Management is to transition our case management over to someone who can handle case management,” Cooper stressed. “This might be a conversation we need to have with DSS. Case management is not my department’s specialty.”

 

Cooper pointed to another key area of the ongoing recovery from the storm, which leveled or severely damaged several neighborhoods in the Woodard Road area, is a need for mental health services.

“These victims need more than a phone call,” Cooper remarked. “We’ve asked for help from Trillium [Health Resources, a specialty care management company that serves eastern North Carolina). We couldn’t get them here physically due to a lack of FEMA funding, or something they said they don’t have anymore.

“We’ve got [storm victims] who can’t sleep, they’re having nightmares, they’re having issues…..they need another step [of help],” Cooper continued.

Commissioner Tammy Lee encouraged Cooper to contact Albemarle Regional Health Services, saying that organization may be able to offer some help.

Commission chairman Ron Wesson said he was puzzled over why Trillium would not respond.

“They’ve always had a crisis management team that is always on call; they come when you call,” Wesson said.

“I’ve requested them twice; I had the state to call them….they [Trillium] said they couldn’t come out,” Cooper said.

Commissioner John Trent asked Cooper to provide additional numbers as to the size of the families impacted by the storm. Cooper said four was the average size of the 41 families whose homes were totally destroyed or deemed unlivable. He added that five families were each at least six-to-eight in size.

“So we’re looking at roughly 160-to-200 people displaced,” Trent noted.

Cooper continued with his update, saying that Samaritan’s Purse has committed to being on the ground in Bertie County at least for a year in their effort to rebuild some homes.

“They said they would work on rehabs and rebuilds and would bring options for mobile homes to be replaced,” Cooper said. “Other organizations (Baptist Men, Methodist Men) have said they can go in and fix homes that are still standing.”

Lee pointed out that all those groups Cooper mentioned are in need of local volunteers.

The commissioners were also given an update from Steve Biggs regarding the removal of storm debris.

“The company we have under contract came in and looked at what we had that needed to be removed and hauled away,” said Biggs, who serves as Bertie’s Economic Development Director. “They have finished up, as of today [Tuesday] removing the C&D [construction and demolition material].”

As for the vegetative/woody debris removal, Biggs said that was scheduled to begin on Wednesday of this week. NCDOT is the responsible entity to that type of debris removal.

“They’ve contracted a firm to do the job; I expect it will take a while to complete it all since we have a lot, a whole lot, of woody debris,” Biggs noted.

As part of the storm update, Wesson mentioned the disbursement of money that has been donated to date from the Bertie County / Morning Road Tornado Relief Fund. He said there has been two major distributions from that fund to storm victims.

“Right now we have about $95,000 remaining in that fund with another $5,000 that will roll in later this week,” Wesson confirmed. “One major expense we have obligated ourselves to pay from that fund is on lot rents [where now destroyed homes once stood]. There were eight in that one trailer park where the rent is $125 monthly. Let’s look at paying that for one year, so that’s $12,000.”

With $88,000 remaining, Wesson suggested another round of funding to the 41 families displaced.

“If we look at $1,000 each, that’s $41,000,” Wesson said. “That still leaves us with $47,000. What else do we need to set aside for?

Cooper said a better handling of case management for each of those families impacted would lead the county to better understand their unfilled needs.

“All these [replaced] houses will need furniture, appliances and other items that make it a home,” Cooper said.

“I agree with Mitch, we may need that money for the future needs of those families,” Lee observed.

“I know there’s a larger list of homes impacted that need some type of repairs, whether it’s shingles on a roof or to replace vinyl siding and windows, but we know there are 41 families right now that don’t have anything…not even a home,” Cooper said.

The board agreed to further study short-term and long-term needs of those impacted by the storm following discussions this week with Samaritan’s Purse and other groups currently involved in repairs/renovations/replacements of damaged homes.

“We need to be urgent as we can to help those that need money now and also decide on what we need to hold back for future needs,” Wesson concluded.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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