LUMBERTON — North Carolina’s governor pledged Thursday to do everything he can to get all the people displaced by Hurricane Matthew back in permanent homes as soon as possible.
Gov. Roy Cooper made a brief stop in Lumberton on Thursday to tour First Baptist Homes, the newly renovated housing complex on Marion Road that was devastated by floodwaters associated with Hurricane Matthew, and to welcome home the apartment complex’s residents. Most of the residents displaced by the storm have now returned, with all of those wishing to return expected to be back by the first week of October, around the anniversary of the storm that caused epic local flooding.
As a result of Hurricane Matthew, 80 of the 81 Baptist Homes residents had to be evacuated. Many ended up in shelters, hotels or at the homes of family members or friends.
“Help can’t come quick enough for those who have been left homeless from a hurricane,” Cooper said. “…The recovery process is long and we still have a lot more work to do.”
Cooper said that while people all over the state finally are getting back into permanent homes, there are still many that need help. Robeson County was “hit hard,” he said, with one-in-five applications for recovery assistance coming from Robeson County.
“We need to get people back into their former homes or into new, safer homes,” he said.
More than $70 million in restoration assistance has been approved and more, hopefully, will become available in the future, the governor said.
“We are looking to Congress and the state to provide the needed assistance,” he said.
Cooper’s visit to Lumberton came shortly after an earlier stop in Fair Bluff, where Hurricane Matthew also left a trail of destruction. Fair Bluff residents, like those in Lumberton, were left homeless and still are in need of government assistance to continue recovery efforts.
The governor mingled and spoke with housing complex residents and with people involved in long-term local recovery efforts as he toured the renovated apartments.
“We are trying to do everything we can to help you … . I know it’s tough being relocated. It’s so traumatic… . Welcome home,” the governor said as he shook hands with residents who thanked him for his efforts to obtain the financial assistance needed to get them back into their homes.
Lola Smith, who first was placed in two emergency shelters before being housed at the Motel 6 in Lumberton, showed the governor her newly renovated apartment.
“The governor asked me about my experience in the shelters. He told me there were still a lot of people displaced,” Smith said. “He said it was good to see I was back in my place.”
Sarah McLean, First Baptist Homes property manager, said the governor’s visit meant a lot to her and the residents who were displaced for almost a year.
“The governor coming here shows that he cares for the county and the people here, especially the elderly, disabled and handicapped,” she said. “… I just wanted the governor to see the people back in their homes and that this community is back together.”
McLean worked from day one with federal, state and county officials to get her complex back in shape so residents could return to their homes as quickly as possible. She said when she saw some of her displaced residents at the shelter in St. Pauls she told her family that she wanted to buy a large house so she could give at least five of them somewhere to stay.
“It was a struggle to see them struggle,” she said.
Lumberton Mayor Bruce Davis was among the crowd, and said he appreciated Cooper not only working to get people back in their homes, but in helping to make sure the city is not drowned again.
“This governor has been here several times,” Davis said, “and he has expressed a willingness to help the city to put floodgates around Cox Road, where the flooding occurred, so this doesn’t happen again to our city.”
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.