At 6 Months, a Look Back at Florence’s Record-Shattering Costs and the Continuing Recovery

Neighborhood surrounded by floodwaters
Thursday, March 14, 2019 - 9:26am

North Carolina is no stranger to severe storms and hurricanes. Even so, when the fall of 2018 brought Hurricane Florence, its widespread devastation smashed records. Six months ago today, on September 14, Florence made landfall on North Carolina’s coast. The work of response and recovery has not stopped since then.

With damage estimates at $17 billion, the brutal destruction of Florence surpasses that of Hurricane Matthew (2016) and Hurricane Floyd (1999) combined. North Carolina’s costliest storm left 52 of the state’s 100 counties declared disaster areas. Forty-four North Carolinians lost their lives.

In the past six months, all levels of government have undertaken an expansive recovery effort to rebuild from Florence and make a stronger, more resilient state. So far, more than $1.2 billion has gone to North Carolinians to restore housing, businesses, local governments and eligible nonprofits, according to the state’s Emergency Management office and its federal partner, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). 

Tens of thousands of homeowners and renters have been approved for $128 million in Individual and Household grants. The National Flood Insurance Program has paid out nearly $600 million in claims. 

The Sheltering and Temporary Essential Power (STEP) Program provides short-term, immediate repairs to make homes habitable so occupants can return while permanent repairs continue. Some 4,250 households signed up for STEP originally. Hundreds of repairs have been completed or underway. March has already been will continue to be a very busy month on this front, with teams of contractors making repairs along with faith-based community partners.

The Transitional Sheltering Assistance Program paid for hotel rooms to serve as temporary housing for storm victims. At its peak in the aftermath of Florence, the program provided housing to 872 families. 

The U.S. Small Business Administration approved nearly $400 million in home and business loans to repair and rebuild communities. More than $66 million in FEMA Public Assistance dollars is funding removal of debris and the repair, replacement or restoration of buildings. 

Florence’s tree-toppling winds and massive flooding closed some 2,500 roads and bridges during the peak of its impact. The wake of the storm left more than 3,600 damaged sites. The state’s Department of Transportation opened roadways back up as quickly as possible, in some cases making temporary repairs to allow traffic to resume even while permanent repairs continued. Six locations remain closed for major, extensive repairs. 

Since Florence, millions of hot meals have gone to those in need. The state has delivered more than $100 million-plus in food assistance to more than 700,000 North Carolinians. Meanwhile, $8.5 million in federal and state funding will go to support the ongoing behavioral health needs of Florence survivors. 

A disaster of this scale creates mountains of waste. To respond to Florence, the state authorized the activation of 217 disaster debris sites. Operations at the remaining 130 active sites continue to wind down this month.

The state has issued hundreds of emergency permits to replace docks and other structures along waterways, and more than $75,000 was awarded to four coastal local governments to improve resiliency for future storms. 

The people of North Carolina have stepped up to carry out the work of recovery. In addition to FEMA’s continuing presence, the state hired hundreds of workers as part of the clean-up and recovery. State employees responded in force to Governor Cooper’s call to support Florence survivors in need — “neighbor helping neighbor” —  dedicating hundreds of thousands of community service hours to the cause. Charitable donations from individuals and private sector partners raised more than $20 million and aided 1.4 million fellow citizens.

Governor Cooper created the new N.C. Office of Recovery and Resiliency (NCORR) in 2018. Its work to administer federal funding for the continuing recovery of both Florence and Matthew is well underway. The office will also coordinate many other functions to ensure the state is all the more prepared for future weather events. 

For more details on the recovery, see this fact sheet.

George McCue