Governor gives update on roads, recovery after Florence

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Rebuilding southeastern North Carolina may not happen as quickly as some hope, but Gov. Roy Cooper said in a Monday afternoon news conference that our state will rebuild smarter and stronger than ever.

Cooper, flanked by state and federal Emergency Management, Highway Patrol and Department of Transportation leaders, said Hurricane Florence is the most disastrous storm to hit North Carolina, evidenced by the 80,000 people who have registered with FEMA.

“We’re already at the number of people who applied in total with (Hurricane) Matthew,” Cooper said, referring to the 2016 storm. “More people are affected by this storm. It’s much more widespread.”

While flooding has devastated entire communities and water remains at dangerous levels in some spots, there was some good news at Monday’s briefing.

I-40 is open all the way to Wilmington as well as US 74 and US 70. 

DOT Secretary Jim Trogdon said US 421 suffered significant damage at the New Hanover-Pender County line and there are still 399 road closures in the state, but reopening major highways like I-40 and I-95 is a big step to the state getting back on its feet.

Port Authority operations in Wilmington and Morehead City have resumed as well.

“The lower Cape Fear (River) crested over the weekend and unexpectedly, the water was going down more rapidly than how fast it came up,” Trogdon said. “The big scale damage we were worried about we did not see and once the water receded, some repairs were done within half a day.”    

Cooper said 200,000 boil water advisories are still in effect in the state and he urged people with well water to test that water through local health departments before consuming it.

Around 2,200 people are in shelters, down from a peak of 20,000, according to Cooper.

“Florence left lives forever changed,” the governor said. “As I traveled across flood zones, I saw countless examples of selfless service. I’ve seen the unshakeable will to recover. North Carolina is resilient and her people are tougher than any storm.”

State Director of Emergency Management Mike Sprayberry noted that while major flooding has begun to subside, residents should remain vigilant on damaged and flooded roadways, echoing the governor’s plea for people to stay off flooded road and to not drive around barricades.

“We are losing lives this way,” Cooper said.

FEMA Coordinating Officer Albie Lewis said $26 million has been approved for Florence survivors and that centers are open in the hardest hit counties with more scheduled to open in the coming days. 

Some towns that suffered the double whammy of hurricanes Matthew and Florence may have tough decisions to make about their futures.

“We aren’t having 500-year floods,” Cooper said, referring to the historic flooding from Matthew and Florence just two years apart. “As we approach recovery, we have to be smart how we do it.” 

Cooper also noted how farm production has been affected in the state, saying the cumulative effect of Matthew and Florence will make it tough for many farmers to recover.

“It’s devastating,” the governor said. “They were hoping for a good year. Instead, they got Florence. 

“The entire state’s econ was hit hard by this storm, as well as people in their home. There’s a lot of work to do, but I’m confident we can do it together.”

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