HURRICANE FLORENCE: Governor says housing remains top priority

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During Wilmington visit, Cooper said many people need temporary shelter

WILMINGTON — During a visit Friday meant to highlight that downtown Wilmington businesses were open two weeks after Hurricane Florence hit the region, Gov. Roy Cooper said finding housing for people affected by the storm remains his administration’s highest priority.

“We’ve got to find places for people to live,” Cooper said. “There are some people who right now can’t even get back to their homes or even know what kind of damage they have.

“So I hear that message.”

Cooper and Albie Lewis, federal coordinating officer for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), said they were aware that people left homeless through storm damage don’t have a lot of options. Wilmington’s apartment stock was already nearly at full capacity before the storm and nearly every hotel room in the area is occupied, leaving few options even for those with aid from FEMA.

“I think it’s pretty clear that we have a lot of homes that have been damaged and we need to get temporary places for people to live,” Cooper said, adding that the state is planning to open additional disaster recovery centers for people affected by the storm.

Lewis said 100,000 people in North Carolina have registered for aid, which could mean anything from funds to repair storm damage to a home, to money for a hotel room — if one can be found — to the agency’s plan to bring temporary trailers and campers to the Wilmington region for people to stay in until a permanent place can be found.

“Every individual situation is different,” he said. “It’s a step-by-step process for each individual.”

During a tour of several downtown businesses, Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo told Cooper that the city has suffered economically from the storm, including conventions that were canceled, businesses that had to close in the wake of the storm and a misperception from potential visitors that the city is still underwater.

“I think it’s important that we make sure that our businesses get up and running as quickly as possible,” Cooper said.

The governor acknowledged that the task of getting people back into homes and businesses operating again is an enormous one.

“I know I’ve got a big job ahead,” Cooper said. “We’ve got to make sure that we use every resource available.”

Reporter Tim Buckland can be reached at