Area elected officials meet to discuss Florence recovery efforts

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New Hanover County and the City of Wilmington hosted a multi-jurisdictional round table discussion Tuesday about efforts during and after Hurricane Florence.

Mayor Bill Saffo and County Commission Chair Woody White led the discussion, and were joined by mayors from Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach and Kure Beach, as well as state legislators and aides to the area’s senate and congressional representation. Staff for North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper were part of the meeting by phone.

Each official shared a brief update on the state of their jurisdiction. Saffo and White said the big concerns are dealing with the significant amount of debris left behind by Florence — 650,000 cubic feet and counting in Wilmington alone — and getting people back to the area and back to work.

All three beaches represented said the shores will need to be replenished, but that overall damage was not as bad as it could have been.

In addition to the updates, several delegations expressed concerns about what could have been done better as far as the response to the storm.

Wilmington Councilor Kevin O’Grady said he was gravely concerned about how Wilmington was cut off from the rest of the state, and that the evacuation routes flooded so easily.

Others expressed grave concern that multiple shelters sustained enough damage that people had to be moved to a secondary location.

Saffo addressed the question of why Wilmington and New Hanover County didn’t issue a mandatory evacuation. He said that with the hundreds of thousands of people who would have had to evacuate, many of them low-income and without means to do so independently, the resources west of the area would have been tapped out, specifically shelters and gas stations.

He said the models were trending for the storm to weaken, so they opted to go with a voluntary evacuation, but that had the storm come on shore as a Category 4 or 5, things would have been different.

“We would have had a helluva mess on our hands,” he said.

In the future, if a storm that size and strength does threaten the area, Saffo said he wants the rest of the state to be prepared to deal with the mass exodus of people from the coast.

The discussion also featured what each municipality needs from the North Carolina General Assembly.

A special session is set for Oct. 2, and officials said their primary needs are funds to deal with the clean up and temporary housing needs in the area.

Saffo added that he hopes the state will allocate some funds to promote tourism in the area, because the entire Cape Fear region relies on that income.