With Florence finally making its way further inland after dumping torrential rain across the Carolinas throughout the weekend, the state will soon be able to start truly assessing the damage left in its wake.
The storm, once a hurricane and now a tropical depression, stalled upon making landfall along the North Carolina coast on Friday, with some areas in southeastern North Carolina expected to receive nearly 40 inches of rain once all is said and done. The storm had claimed 13 lives across the Carolinas as of Sunday, according to authorities.
Florence arrived just two years after Hurricane Matthew flooded many coastal towns that were just beginning to regain a sense of normalcy before disaster struck yet again. While North Carolina’s Republican leadership in the state legislature has heavily criticized Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, for his handling of the relief efforts in the wake of Matthew, both sides are hopeful that lessons learned from that event will put the state in a better position to recover this time around.
The state has been steadily adding to its “rainy day” fund in the years since Matthew in an effort to be better prepared for the next natural disaster. The fund, which contained more than $2 billion before Florence arrived, will be put to the test and further assistance from the federal government will be needed in all likelihood to help North Carolina rebuild.
“The Republicans, since we’ve been in charge, have made sure that we started replenishing our ‘rainy day’ fund because a lot of that had been depleted before we took office and the state was in a lot of debt,” Lincoln County state Rep. Jason Saine, a Lincolnton Republican, said. “Knowing that we can’t just plan for today and our immediate needs, we had to look long term and, like any family that puts money aside for emergencies, we did the same thing. I may be a little off on my figures, but earlier this year we had $1.8 billion in the ‘rainy day’ fund and we added money to that in this last budget.”
In preparation for the storm, Saine also referenced the money that the state has put into its emergency management operations in recent years, as well as grants that have been awarded to fire and rescue departments across the state.
“Knowing what resources we have available right now is important and then, once the storm has passed and we move past the short-term response, we’ll look and see what is needed in terms of a long-term response,” Saine said. “We’ll do that in coordination with what the federal government may do. I’ve spent most of the past few days, as you might imagine, on the phone with Congressman McHenry’s office and Senator Tillis’ office, as well as with folks at the White House. Those administration officials in Washington D.C. have been very engaged, working with our emergency management leaders and legislators. They’ve done very well gathering intelligence about what exactly is happening and where they can deploy resources.”
Saine, like other legislators in western North Carolina, has been active in doing what he can to help his fellow legislators in some of the state’s easternmost counties that have taken the brunt of Florence. For instance, as chairman of the House Information Technology committee, Saine spent much of Saturday working with AT&T to deploy a “satellite COLT” truck in Whiteville where communications systems have been crippled. The truck essentially serves as a mobile hotspot, delivering WiFi and cellular service in the surrounding area.