George Alsberg, age 103, of Wilmington, was one of the oldest voluntary evacuees of Hurricane Florence. Photo credit: Taylor Knopf
NORTH CAROLINA HEALTH NEWS |
That’s the takeaway from a state-compiled list of the adults who died as a result of the catastrophic storm. It shows that two out of three North Carolinians who died during or as a result of Florence were 60 or older, and nearly half were 70 or older. The median age of adults who died during or as a result of the storm was 67, while the statewide median age is 38.3.
“Vulnerable adults are more likely to be impacted because of their social isolation, or not having the supports they needed in areas like transportation,” said Heather Burkhardt, program coordinator at Resources for Seniors in Raleigh.
The list of deaths tied to the catastrophic September storm grew to 39 on Oct. 1, when Gov. Roy Cooper announced two deaths, one of a Pender County man, 69, who fell off a roof Sept. 22 while repairing storm damage. A list supplied by the Department of Public Safety showed that people older than 65 represented:
Six of 11 people who drowned in motor vehicle accidents,
Five of six people who died of medical causes such as cardiopulmonary distress or COPD
A couple, 86, who died in a fire caused by the use of candles while power was out.
Three of the victims were infants and two others did not have listed ages. Of the 34 adult deaths with ages attached, 21 were older than 65.
Perhaps the most poignant death was that of a man, 82, who committed suicide in Carteret County after Florence devastated his home. “Shot self when house condemned,” read the terse DPS account of the death.
LONGLEAF POLITICS | Hurricane Matthew struck eastern North Carolina on Oct. 9, 2016.
A full 18 months later, some of the first federally funded repairs are slated to begin this June.
Hurricane Matthew has re-emerged as a political issue in Raleigh as thousands of people in eastern North Carolina await public money to rebuild.
The storm was one of the most devastating in North Carolina’s history, killing 31 people and caused more than $4.8 billion in damage. Matthew set rainfall records in 17 counties, and 2,300 people were rescued from floodwaters.
Why is recovery taking so long?
It mostly has to do with the processes set up to distribute the roughly $1.7 billion in recovery aid expected from the federal and state government.
While the initial response from the N.C. National Guard and FEMA came quickly, North Carolina has been in no hurry to distribute money intended for longer-term recovery.
And as it turns out, there’s a huge difference between money that’s been approved — and money that’s actually been used.
The breakdown of funding sources is an alphabet soup of agencies, each with its own policies and mechanisms and hoops to jump through. State governments have incentives to get roads repaired quickly. Homes, not so much.
Here’s a quick explanation of how disaster recovery works. It’s ordered by how quickly money has been distributed.
Analysis by the Environmental Finance Center compares water and sewer revenues with operation and maintenance costs. Gray dots show municipal systems that have enough revenue to cover expenses. Peach-colored pentagons show show those with enough revenues to cover their combined expenses and debts. The bright red squares represent those without enough revenue to cover regular operating and maintenance expenses. Almost a quarter of systems across the state fall in those categories coming up short. Thanks, in part, to Florence and Matthew, many of those are clustered in the east.
CAROLINA PUBLIC PRESS
Taking stock of what it will take to rebuild after Hurricane Florence, it’s important to remember that even before this year’s hurricane season started, the finances of dozens of water and sewer systems throughout North Carolina were already underwater.
Some were damaged in prior storms. Many more across the state are caught in a long-term downward spiral of declining jobs and population.
As policymakers begin to shape the state’s rebuilding program in response to Hurricane Florence, they must deal with the already distressed systems and those damaged in the most recent storm. They must also come up with a long-term solution to a chronic statewide maintenance backlog.
These will be the key steps toward building resiliency, especially in the hard-hit eastern region of the state.
At a recent General Assembly committee meeting in Raleigh, Edgar Starnes, legislative liaison for the N.C. Department of State Treasurer, said 37 water and sewer systems in Florence disaster areas are going to need significant help dealing with the damage.
“The repairs they’re going to face are going to be very expensive,” he told members of a joint House and Senate committee studying water and sewer systems in a post-storm assessment held in late September. “They’re in a lot of trouble because of the flood right now.”
The damage to those systems and the floods that followed resulted in tens of millions of gallons of wastewater and sewage spills.
Some of the systems were the same as those damaged in 2016, when Hurricane Matthew roared through many of the same communities.
The Center for Environmental Health, The NC Conservation Network, Cape Fear River Watch, Working Films, and a coalition of environmental groups throughout North Carolina are holding a statewide screening tour of The DevilWe Know . A screening in New Bern is at 6:30 p.m. today.
In this new documentary film by Stephanie Soechtig, citizens in West Virginia take on a powerful corporation after they discover it has knowingly been dumping a toxic chemical — now found in the blood of 99.7 percent of Americans — into the local drinking water supply.
New Bern screening is at 6:30 p.m. today (Wednesday) at The Harrison Center, 311 Middle St. It is hosted by The Carolina Nature Coalition.
Brian Powell, communications director for the NC Conservation Network, outlined how the issues in the film are all too familiar for NC audiences: “The Devil We Know serves as a compelling and ominous prequel to the water contamination crisis impacting North Carolina as a result of widespread chemical dumping — particularly as it relates to GenX contamination of the Cape Fear River from the DuPont spin-off corporation Chemours.”
Emily Sutton, Haw Riverkeeper, and host of the Greensboro screenings said, “While The Devil We Know is about West Virginia, perfluorinated compounds are contaminating drinking water supplies throughout the state of NC as well. These are compounds that do not break down in traditional drinking water treatment. Many are known to be toxic to human health. North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency have carelessly allowed industry to dump toxins into public water supplies for decades. It is time to take action to protect human health and the health of our waterways.”
Each event will feature post-screening discussions led by local organizations that will show audiences how to stand against these toxic waste practices including demanding that PFAS chemicals get listed in the US database for toxic releases, the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) – ensuring that companies must disclose when they release these chemicals into the environment.
Ben Kearns, second from left, Cape Fear Public Utility Authority water operations supervisor, explains water-filtration testing equipment during an August 2017 legislative tour of the authority’s Sweeney Water Treatment Plant in Wilmington. Kirk Ross / Carolina Public Press
By KIRK ROSS Carolina Public Press State House and Senate leaders announced a long-sought agreement last week on a statewide response to “emerging contaminants,” a class of new, unregulated compounds that have been found in North Carolina rivers and whose effects on human health are unclear.
Close to 90,000 of these potentially hazardous substances are known to exist. For water-quality regulators at the state, federal and local levels, trying to keep up with the fast-changing inventory of compounds is an exercise in triage.
Nothing made that difficulty clearer than discovery of one unregulated compound known by the trade name GenX in the water supply for about 300,000 North Carolinians in the lower Cape Fear region.
The GenX story is complex, interwoven with chemistry, law and the shifting framework of federal and state regulation. More than that, it is about the future of water quality and whether those charged with protecting it have the tools and expertise to keep up with changes in the industries they regulate.
Given the experiences the Department of Environmental Quality has faced in the past year, DEQ Secretary Michael Regan thinks it is ready to take on the task.
“I think we’ve positioned ourselves very well to act on what we are facing,” he said recently after guiding legislators through a tour of DEQ’s main labs in Raleigh. “We just need a partnership with our legislature and we need the resources.”
Last year, as the GenX story expanded, Regan sought emergency funds from the legislature. This year, he is pushing for a more proactive and comprehensive approach.