Cleanup, rebuilding, and housing are now the city’s focus in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, officials said during Tuesday’s Board of Aldermen meeting.
It was the first routine meeting of the board since before Hurricane Florence.
Jordan Hughes, city engineer, was filling in for City Manager Mark Stephens during Tuesday’s Board of Aldermen meeting.
Stephens and Alderman Jeffrey Odham were out of town on business, including a meeting with U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, R-Winterville.
Alderman Johnnie Ray Kinsey was not at Tuesday’s meeting.
Hughes described the city’s initial response to Hurricane Florence as outstanding.
The city started preparing for a disaster such as Florence back in the spring, when it began contracting with different companies and agencies to provide the myriad services necessary in a disaster.
Once Florence reached New Bern, it was essentially all hands on deck with city staff, Hughes said.
“We found a lot of creative roles for people to fill way outside their normal duties,” he said.
Firefighters responded to emergencies that included one full-on structure fire in Olde Towne, where a two-story house was destroyed due to a portable generator malfunction.
During the storm, there were 800 swift water rescues, city officials reported.
“Going through Irene in 2011 and getting through that with the city, … we’ve made monumental improvements in our emergency planning, how we bulk up our resources before the storm, everybody understanding what their role is during the storm, and you really can see that come together,” Hughes said. “I think we put it through a pretty good test over the last couple of weeks, and I’ll tell you it’s a darn good plan at this point.”
Now the city’s full focus is on recovery and rebuilding of the community, he said.
Every department and offices are fully open except those facilities temporarily closed.
Closed facilities include Parks and Rec admin center, which was flooded and moved to, ironically, the Aquatics Center. West New Bern Recreation Center gym and game room being used as an evacuation shelter. City boat launches, Stanley White Rec Center, Union Point Park, Lawson Creek Park, Glenburnie Park, Dog Park and Bear Plaza are all closed.
A few customers are still without power due to damage to specific services. They can call 252-636-4070 for help and information, Hughes said.
Other items related to Hurricane Florence
Trash pickup resuming normal schedule. Debris collection is underway.
The recycling plant in Jacksonville is out of power. Recycling service in New Bern is suspended as a result. The county’s Convenience Centers are open, for anyone who has recycling they need to dispose of. Absent that, anything that goes to the curb will be picked up, Matt Montanye, public works director, said.
“We spent most of last week preparing the removal sites to receive debris,” he said. The city started removing debris on Friday. As of Tuesday morning, city workers had moved 126 loads, or 3,700 cubic yards, of vegetative debris, 101 tons of construction debris, and were working on fallen and falling trees.
Removing construction debris will be the biggest problem, he said. Ten city trucks are picking up debris. Supplementing that are truck crews from Wilson, Garner, Rocky Mount, and Greenville. They are all working on commercial debris, from Batts Hill to North Glenburnie Road.
Meanwhile, 31 teams picking up vegetative debris spread throughout the city.
“The city has 188 miles of streets. Please be patient. We will get to you,” he said.
In all, close to 100 people are picking up debris.
The city asks citizens to separate construction debris and furniture in one pile, and appliances and vegetative debris in their own separate piles.
Citizens need to put their debris piles near the street, but not on the street.
“If it is out there, we are going to pick it up,” he said.
Curfew was working really well, said Mayor Dana Outlaw, who ordered the curfew. One evening while trying to make his way downtown on city business, he was denied entrance to the downtown area because of the curfew.
There have been no announcements regarding whether public schools will resume on Monday. Workers were moving evacuation centers from several elementary schools to other locations so that school can resume. School has been out since noon Tuesday, Sept. 11. Expect something to be announced on Friday about whether school will resume on Monday. Onslow County Schools will not be open next week.
Programs are suspended
Parks and Recreation Director Foster Hughes said there was 2-feet of water in Stanley White Recreation Center. The gymnasium floor is ruined, and it will take several months before the facility can be back in shape.
Elsewhere, all city boat launches are destroyed.
“It’s going to take some time for us to get those things together,” he said.
Meanwhile, West New Bern Recreation Center is closed for recreation purposes. It is being used as a consolidated evacuation center, taking in evacuees who had been staying at Brinson Elementary School and Ben D. Quinn Elementary School.
Paying for it all
Getting reimbursed from the federal government can be a tedious, time-consuming process. Said Alderman Bobby Aster, the city has not finished with reimbursements from FEMA for Hurricanes Irene and Matthew.
The city may hire a consultant to shepherd the city’s way through the complexities of reimbursement. The good news is, the consultant fees are reimbursable.
Aster, who was New Bern’s fire chief before he retired, said damage from Hurricane Florence is quadruple that of Irene, which struck New Bern in August 2011.
Alderman Sabrina Bengel pointed out that the reason the city maintains a healthy fund balance is for situations just like Hurricane Florence. The city may get reimbursed for most of its storm-related expenses, but meanwhile, it has to pay those costs up-front.
The King’s English
Alderman Bobby Aster, who has a great deal of experience dealing with disasters, is well-versed in FEMA jargon. During Tuesday’s meeting, he asked Jerry Haney, Area 3 division supervisor for FEMA Region 4, about numerous things using a variety of acronyms. “When will the PA on site, for the PA people,” Aster asked, for example.
After a few more exchanges like that, Alderwoman Jameesha Harris asked if they could use more common terms.
“You guys are like best friends having a conversation and we’re just sitting here …” she said.
How long is this going to take?
FEMA’s Jerry Haney said he hopes to be home by Thanksgiving.