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The Daily Tar Heel

Research and relief in review; Hurricane Matthew a year later

With hurricane season in full swing, America is coping with relief efforts for Harvey, Irma, José and more. But UNC researchers and social programs are still focused on Hurricane Matthew and its ecological and societal impacts a year later.

At the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences, Professor Rachel Noble analyzes a bacterial pathogen, Vibrio, and its presence in seafood and water. 

After tropical storms and hurricanes, runoff and rainwater circulate Vibrio and raise its presence in the affected environment. Vibrio causes gastrointestinal illness through both ingestion and wound infections, making it very effective and highly transmittable. 

Through a 10-year research grant received in 2003 from the National Science Foundation, Noble and her team observed that the highest rates of Vibrio were in early fall, contrary to popular belief of a bacterial peak in summer. 

“It’s just hard because one of the difficult parts of our work is that we don’t get a lot of events," Noble said. "So you see one pattern after Hurricane Matthew, but maybe there are differences with the next tropical storm.”

Noble is focused on lowering the public’s risk of Vibrio contracted through seafood and contaminated water. Vibrio has an affinity for oysters, because they are filter feeders and concentrate the bacteria. Oftentimes, public health organizations must first wait for a handful of people to get sick before they know to warn the public about the presence of the bacteria. 

“When we see people get sick we put out a warning, and we react,” Noble said. “But we don’t have a good proactive understanding of how these organisms are responding to their natural environment. If we can understand that, we will be able protect the public.” 

Carolina Center for Public Service provides relief in Eastern North Carolina town

While Noble and her team focus on water cleanliness and preventive measures for bacterial infections, the Carolina Center for Public Service, led by Kim Allen, is working to rebuild in Lumberton. 

CCPS began their work in December of 2016, collecting water and supplies around campus to disseminate in Lumberton. Since then, they have partnered with North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church to help muck out water-damaged homes. After the homes have their water-damaged items removed, homeowners focus on rebuilding. Assistance comes monetarily from Federal Emergency Management Agency or insurance companies, although oftentimes it is not enough. 

“That’s where the adopt-a-home program comes in, providing money and labor much like the Habitat for Humanity model,” Allen said. “We’re doing a partial adoption where we cover a portion of cost and provide some labor. We are going to do an accessory adoption, so we help provide furniture and appliances.” 

CCPS is partnering with other UNC organizations, such as the Employee Forum and the Carolina Hazards and Resilience Planners, to raise money to finance the rebuild. CCPS is planning on partially adopting one home around Dec. 1, their next scheduled trip to Lumberton. Now in the rebuilding stage, transitioning from the relief phase, Allen is concerned about the mental and emotional effects. 

“There are long-term effects, like the kind of emotional distress that people experience having gone through something, such as seeing your belongings destroyed, and the fear that is there," Allen said. "These effects go beyond restoring a building.”

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