- Associated Press - Sunday, May 21, 2017

WINDSOR, N.C. (AP) - Mitch Cooper, director of Bertie County Emergency Services, recently showed a visitor around the vacant wing of an aging school that serves as headquarters for first-responders.

The roof leaks. Ceiling tiles are falling. Toilets overflow. The showers needed for decontamination don’t work. New ambulances sit outside in the weather.

The location is about 7 miles outside the county seat of Windsor, forcing longer response times in one of the largest counties by land area in North Carolina.

The county is negotiating with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to get a new emergency building, but help is not coming fast enough, Cooper said.

The old building is gone. Remnants of Tropical Storm Julia struck in mid-September, inundating Windsor with water up to 15 feet deep. Three weeks later, Hurricane Matthew landed, submerging the middle of town up to 17 feet. They were two of the worst floods in the town’s history.

Roads were impassable for at least a week. About 150 people had to abandon their flooded homes and seek shelter. The library, the cooperative extension offices and the emergency services building were among the facilities destroyed.

Crews were attempting to dig out mud left by Julia when Matthew struck. The emergency teams were forced to the old school.

“We’re seven months down the road, and in 20 days hurricane season begins again,” Cooper said. “We can’t go on like this.”

The county has applied for $284,000 from FEMA to rebuild the emergency services headquarters in a metal building on a county-owned lot.

The tract sits among other facilities, including the new regional jail and a chemical company. But because an abandoned jail built more than 100 years ago also sits in the area, federal and state agencies are requiring an archaeological survey for historic artifacts, said John Trent, chairman of the Bertie County Board of Commissioners.

“That lot is 600 yards or more from that old jail,” he said. “There’s always something else.”

FEMA representatives have changed several times since the storms, Trent said. Deadlines have come and gone. New obstacles keep popping up.

“We’re still jumping through hoops,” Trent said. “Things have got to move faster than they have been. We need help.”

FEMA acknowledges delays out of the agency’s control, spokesman Ray Perez said.

Julia was not declared a federal disaster, which limits help for those damages, he said. FEMA has approved a new emergency building for $284,000 but must wait for the archaeological study before moving ahead.

Facilities for the library and the cooperative extension offices are still in the works, he said.

“We have been working closely with Bertie County,” Perez said.

Bertie is one of the state’s poorest counties with an annual per capita income of about $17,000. Roughly a quarter of its 20,000 residents live below the poverty level, according to the North Carolina Department of Commerce.

Bertie has earned a reputation in recent years as a target for natural disasters. Floodwaters and tornadoes are frequent threats. Six years ago in April, a tornado tore through the countryside, killing 11 people in about 15 minutes.

Local officials were relieved when no tornadoes touched down during last week’s storm. All the more reason to hasten construction of a new emergency building, Trent said.

Windsor floods come in three stages, Trent explained. Rain falls with no place to go, causing flash floods. Then the Cashie River swells above its banks, overflowing into town. And hurricanes push Albemarle Sound waters into the river, causing even more inundation.

Even U.S. 17 - a possible emergency evacuation route from the Outer Banks - was under water after both Julia and Matthew.

The county has requested help from engineers to find ways to lessen the frequency and severity of the flooding.

Downstream from Windsor is a “pinch point” of land on the Cashie River that could be opened up, said Barbara Doll, an assistant professor at North Carolina State University with storm water management expertise, in a report for Bertie. Restoring old mill dams along the river might help, she listed among other possible remedies.

She recommends the county have a study done that could cost $120,000. The county needs help with that, too, Trent said.

“We sit here in a fishbowl and wait,” Trent said.

___

Information from: The Virginian-Pilot, http://pilotonline.com

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide