The impact of the 2018 tropical systems in North Carolina wasn’t confined to coastal areas. Near the state’s geographical center, the route of N.C. 42 through Carbonton runs under floodwaters from the Deep River on Sept. 18, in eastern Chatham County, near Lee and Moore counties. Courtesy of the N.C. Department of Transportation.
CAROLINA PUBLIC PRESS | Hurricanes Florence and Michael caused school districts in their paths to miss several days of school. The state is helping districts avoid official penalties, but educators across the state are divided about the long-term wisdom of losing so many days of instruction.
As school districts recovered from Florence, Gov. Roy Cooper signed legislation Oct. 3 to grant calendar flexibility to schools in districts with federal disaster declarations. This allows the districts to waive up to 20 days of absences if they choose to. That choice isn’t necessarily automatic.
According to the N.C. Department of Public Safety, 30 counties have been federally declared for both individual assistance and public assistance, and 11 counties have been declared for public assistance only. School districts located in counties with either of these types of declarations can take advantage of the waiver policy. Although the legislation originally applied to those affected by Florence, it also covers districts with declarations due to Michael.
Valita Quattlebaum, chief communications officer for New Hanover County Schools, said her district will be using this waiver in addition to creating a new calendar to recoup days. Hurricane Florence heavily affected the coastal district’s schools and means of transportation, she said.
“We were out 17 days,” Quattlebaum said. “We had to get our buildings cleaned up, we had to clear up debris and make our campus safe enough for students to go into. We had repairs to do, get rid of damaged furniture, things that had gotten wet.”
Gov. Roy Cooper directed $25 million from the North Carolina Education Lottery Fund on Tuesday to speed repairs to K-12 public schools damaged by Hurricane Florence.
“Students need to get back to learning and educators need to get back to teaching, but many school districts can’t afford the repairs schools need,” Cooper said. “The lives of thousands of students, teachers and families are on hold and they need our help to recover.”
While many schools have reopened since Hurricane Florence struck last month, seven North Carolina school systems remain closed, keeping more than 130 schools out of operation and nearly 90,000 students out of class.
Just four of Craven County’s 23 public schools were open for class on Monday. Three schools in Jones County will have to be entirely rebuilt.
Several affected school districts have depleted most of their contingency funds and need immediate financial assistance to repair roofs, flooring and electrical wiring, eradicate mold and mildew and replace furniture to get schools reopened.
The emergency funds will be administered by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. Priority will be given to district and charter schools in Brunswick, Craven, Duplin, Jones, New Hanover, Onslow, Pender and Robeson counties that have immediate repair needs and are not currently in operation.
Some of the repairs should be reimbursable by federal disaster recovery funds. Transferring the money now gives schools quicker help and allows them to retain contractors to speed repairs.
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.
Johnston County Hams, a Smithfield, N.C. establishment, is recalling approximately 89,096 pounds of ready-to-eat ham products that may be adulterated with Listeria monocytogenes, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced today.
The ready-to-eat deli-loaf ham items were produced from April 3, 2017 to Oct. 2, 2018. The following products are subject to recall:
• Varying weights of 7 to 8-lbs. plastic-wrapped “JOHNSTON COUNTY HAMS, INC. COUNTRY STYLE FULLY COOKED BONELESS DELI HAM.”
• Varying weights of 7 to 8-lbs. plastic-wrapped “Ole Fashioned Sugar Cured The Old Dominion Brand Hams Premium Fully Cooked Country Ham” with Sell-By dates from 4/10/2018 to 9/27/2019.
• Varying weights of 7 to 8-lbs. plastic-wrapped “Padow’s Hams & Deli, Inc. FULLY COOKED COUNTRY HAM BONELESS Glazed with Brown Sugar.”
• Varying weights of 7 to 8-lbs. plastic-wrapped “Premium Fully Cooked Country Ham LESS SALT Distributed By: Valley Country Hams LLC” with Sell-By dates from 4/10/2018 to 9/27/2019.
• Varying weights of 7 to 8-lbs. plastic-wrapped “GOODNIGHT BROTHERS COUNTRY HAM Boneless Fully Cooked.”
The products subject to recall bear establishment number “EST. M2646” inside the USDA mark of inspection. These items were shipped to distributors in Maryland, North Carolina, New York, South Carolina and Virginia.
On Sept. 27, 2018, FSIS was notified that a person ill with listeriosis reported consuming a ham product produced at Johnston County Hams. Working in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state public health and agriculture partners, FSIS determined that there is a link between the Listeria monocytogenes illnesses and ham products produced at Johnston County Hams. The epidemiologic investigation identified a total of four listeriosis confirmed illnesses, including one death, between July 8, 2017 and August 11, 2018. FSIS collected two deli ham product samples from the Johnston County Hams, Inc. facility in 2016 and in early 2018. Whole genome sequencing results showed that Listeria monocytogenes identified in deli ham both years was closely related genetically to Listeria monocytogenes from ill people. FSIS is continuing to work with federal and state public health partners to determine if there are additional illnesses linked to these products and will provide updated information should it become available.
Consumption of food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes can cause listeriosis, a serious infection that primarily affects older adults, persons with weakened immune systems, and pregnant women and their newborns. Less commonly, persons outside these risk groups are affected.
Listeriosis can cause fever, muscle aches, headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance and convulsions sometimes preceded by diarrhea or other gastrointestinal symptoms. An invasive infection spreads beyond the gastrointestinal tract. In pregnant women, the infection can cause miscarriages, stillbirths, premature delivery or life-threatening infection of the newborn. In addition, serious and sometimes fatal infections in older adults and persons with weakened immune systems. Listeriosis is treated with antibiotics. Persons in the higher-risk categories who experience flu-like symptoms within two months after eating contaminated food should seek medical care and tell the health care provider about eating the contaminated food.
FSIS is concerned that some product may be frozen and in consumers’ freezers. Consumers who have purchased these products are urged not to consume them. These products should be thrown away or returned to the place of purchase.
FSIS routinely conducts recall effectiveness checks to verify recalling firms notify their customers of the recall and that steps are taken to make certain that the product is no longer available to consumers. When available, the retail distribution list(s) will be posted on the FSIS website at www.fsis.usda.gov/recalls.
Consumers with questions regarding the recall can contact Rufus Brown, Johnston County Hams plant manager, at (919) 934-8054. Media with questions regarding the recall can contact Largemouth Communications at (919) 459-6457.
Consumers with food safety questions can “Ask Karen,” the FSIS virtual representative available 24 hours a day at AskKaren.gov or via smartphone at m.askkaren.gov. The toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline 888-MPHotline (888-674-6854) is available in English and Spanish and can be reached from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Eastern Time) Monday through Friday. Recorded food safety messages are available 24 hours a day. The online Electronic Consumer Complaint Monitoring System can be accessed 24 hours a day at: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/reportproblem.
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.
Due to the increased populations of mosquitoes caused by flooding from Hurricane Florence, Gov. Roy Cooper on Friday ordered $4 million to fund mosquito control efforts in counties currently under a major disaster declaration.
“To help local communities in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, I’ve directed state funds for mosquito control efforts to protect people who live in hard-hit areas.” Gov. Cooper said.
Funding will allow control efforts to begin as soon as Thursday. Each county’s allocation will be based upon their share of the total acreage requiring mosquito treatment in the 27 counties. None of the counties will be asked to share in the cost for these services up to their specific allocation amount. They will have the flexibility to determine the most appropriate means to provide this service.
“I’m grateful to Governor Cooper for taking this action to allow us to provide a critical public health service,” said Craven County Health Director Scott Harrelson. “This has been a serious issue for our county and many others impacted by Hurricane Florence.”
Increased mosquito populations often follow a hurricane or any weather event that results in large-scale flooding. While most mosquitoes that emerge after flooding do not transmit human disease, they still pose a public health problem by discouraging people from going outside and hindering recovery efforts.
Although rare, the most commonly reported mosquito-borne illnesses that can be acquired in North Carolina are LaCrosse encephalitis, West Nile virus and Eastern equine encephalitis. Nearly 70 percent of mosquito-borne infections reported in the state in 2017 were acquired during travel outside the continental U.S.
While outdoors, peoples should remember to:
Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants while outdoors.
Use mosquito repellent that contains DEET or an equivalent when outside and use caution when applying to children.
NORTH CAROLINA HEALTH NEWS | Farmer markets around the state will have another month in the busy summer growing season to figure out how to keep accepting food assistance benefits electronically at their stands.
The National Association of Farmers Market Nutrition Programs (NAFMNP) announced Thursday it will send a month’s worth of operating funds to technology company Nova Dia Group to keep its MarketLink software running until the end of August, according to a news release sent out Thursday.
The move came just two weeks before 1,700 farmers markets around the county, including 45 in North Carolina, would have to stop accepting the Electronic Benefit Cards (EBT) that many depend on. No permanent solution has been announced.
At farmers markets around North Carolina, the tables are piled high with tomatoes, okra, cucumbers, peaches and more.
But even as the growing season is peaking, some folks who might want to buy will have a harder time bringing those fresh fruits and vegetables home.
That’s because the technology company that currently processes Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps) benefits at 40 percent of the country’s farmers markets will stop doing so at the end of July.
Left in the lurch in North Carolina are 45 farmers markets, farm stands and mobile markets and the low-income customers that use their SNAP Electronic Benefits Transfer cards to buy that produce through a purchasing program that runs off of Apple iPads and iPhones, according to Lisa Misch, a program coordinator who works on food access issues for the Pittsboro-based Rural Advancement Foundation International.
In the waning days of this year’s legislative work session, lawmakers abruptly revived and passed a bill aimed at revising North Carolina’s laws to address the flood of people with mental health crises in hospital emergency departments.
Officials from the state’s hospital association had convened administrators, advocacy organizations, academics, mental health professionals and others over several years to examine some legislative fixes. Those leading that effort say they’ve come up with a bill that will improve processes for people who find themselves in crisis.
“We did this because we were tired of seeing these people, these humans trapped in a system that there really was no escape, this system of [involuntary commitment],” said Julia Wacker who leads mental health policy analysis for the North Carolina Healthcare Association. “This is far too often the way of treatment … stick these folks in handcuffs, put them in a squad car, and take them to the emergency department.”
But trust is hard to come by in North Carolina’s mental health system, and people who have been part of that system as consumers of services say they feel let down by a process that excluded their voices, as many of the state’s most prominent self-advocates were not invited to participate. They say any result will fail to account for the pain they’ve experienced as a result of the state’s fractured behavioral health system.
“They did not tell us about this bill,” said longtime advocate Martha Brock, who has been hospitalized for mental illness in the past.
Brock, who serves on the state Consumer and Family Advisory Committee, which informs the Department of Health and Human Services on behavioral health issues, said that she was frustrated after being shut out of the negotiations around the bill. She also has problems with some of its provisions.
Another longtime advocate Laurie Coker complained that the bill was revived suddenly, moved quickly, and that they were given little time to respond to changes made in the final draft. Both women expressed concern about definitions of “incompetence,” about who gets to make decisions for a person once they’re engaged in the behavioral health system, and about the privacy rights of people in that system.
And their complaints hint at some of the long-standing divisions within the mental health advocacy community itself, as well as the problems that come when institutions communicate with a limited pool of advocates.