Nearly a year after Matthew, hurricanes hit close to home ... again

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A residential street in Houston, TX during the cleanup process after Hurricane Harvey. Photo courtesy of  Valerie Mueller.

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, North Carolina continues to feel the effects of Hurricane Matthew. 

Hurricane season runs annually from June 1 to Dec. 1, when the ocean water is warmer and weather is more conducive for hurricanes to form. The National Hurricane Center issued a tropical storm warning for North Carolina's coast Aug. 28.

This process started in the Caribbean, came through the bottom corner of the Gulf of Mexico and then shifted rapidly from a tropical storm into Hurricane Harvey. 

Rick Luettich, director for UNC’s Institute for Marine Sciences, said North Carolina's tropical storm warning was completely separate from Hurricane Harvey and this is typical activity during hurricane season.

Luettich said any community hit by a natural disaster on this scale has to rebuild infrastructure to be stable and smarter than older ones. 

“We try to discourage people from just building back the way they were before because then it encourages the same thing to happen again,” he said. 

Emma Macadam, a UNC junior, said her cousin and his family, including his three young children, are staying with a host family this week because the damages to their home in Texas made it unlivable. 

“Their whole first floor up to their kitchen counter was flooded so they lost the whole structure of the house," Macadam said. "And the sad part is they just closed on the house a month ago."

Luettich said there is a part of North Carolina where communities rebuilding from Hurricane Matthew damage are working to develop more green spaces that could potentially soak up water in future severe storms and are pushing people to build up in higher elevations.

“A lot of that is to work with the environment instead of just trying to pave over it,” he said.

Brian Kennedy, a public policy fellow for the NC Justice Center, said a decrease in public investments worsened the damages these disasters do to low-income and minority communities.

Kennedy said one of the biggest indicators of the shift in North Carolina’s emergency response policies and funding can be seen in the difference between the response to Hurricane Floyd in 1999 and the response to Hurricane Matthew, 17 years later.

He said with Hurricane Floyd, the state gave a total of $1.2 billion to help recover, which went to housing, public health and environmental repairs. The current total investment made by the state to help with Hurricane Matthew recovery is $300 million.

Kennedy said in a recent budget passed in North Carolina there were some small investments in emergency response systems and creating a local emergency response task force. He said these investments are important, but the amount of money allocated isn’t enough.

“The reason why Hurricane Matthew had such a huge impact was because the communities that were most heavily impacted were low income communities," Kennedy said. "They were communities of colors, immigrant communities, and they were communities where we have just not made investments over the past decade or more really."

Princeville, North Carolina is one of the oldest African-American municipalities in the nation. It was undesirable land given to African-Americans after the Civil War abolished slavery. At the time housing was federally segregated so African-Americans were pushed into areas with low-quality land.

“Black and brown people were forced to live in these undesirable areas," Kennedy said. "And one of the reasons they were undesirable was because a lot of them were in floodplains."

Kennedy said because there haven’t been massive efforts to integrate housing or investments made to make areas safe from flooding, the communities that are most impacted are typically minority and low-income communities.

He said legislators should be focusing on a bigger picture than investments into emergency response systems. 

“The bigger thing that they really need to focus on is how do we make sure that communities aren’t vulnerable in the first place, and how do we make sure people can choose where they want to live and that they’re not forced into these segregated housing and segregated residential patterns,” he said.

Kennedy said creating opportunities for people to purchase homes where they want to live begins with programs that focus on equitable access to credit or mortgages, as well as bettering public transportation. 

He said it may be too late to realistically create enough revenue to be invested in these programs, due to tax cuts such as the continued cuts to the corporate income tax.

“While state legislators might agree that we need to help communities, really they need to put their money where their mouth is, and they have to be willing to make the investments that actually pay for the priorities that they state that they have.”

state@dailytarheel.com

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