- Associated Press - Friday, March 10, 2017

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - The town of Princeville, the historic African-American town destroyed by hurricane-induced floods twice in 17 years, is not getting the help it needs to rebuild from either the state or federal governments, its town manager said Friday.

“We need trailers on the ground,” town manager Daniel Gerald said in a phone interview Friday. “We need immediate housing now. Not tomorrow. We need it now.”

Princeville, a town of 2,200 located on the Tar River in eastern North Carolina, was destroyed by Hurricane Floyd in September 1999 and Hurricane Matthew in October 2016 despite a dike that’s supposed to protect the town. After Floyd, Princeville rebuilt, and residents returned.

But five months after Matthew hit, that rebuilding isn’t happening, said Gerald, who says that of Princeville’s approximately 750 single-family homes, 241 had major damage and 229 others had less severe damage.

One difference is that after Floyd, people lived in temporary housing, some of which the federal government located beside their houses until their homes were rebuilt. But federal authorities are refusing to place mobile units in the town limits. The reason: it’s not safe because of the flood threat.

Even after Floyd, flood maps from the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Princeville was in a Zone X, meaning the dike would protect it from flooding. But the agency’s post-Matthew maps places the town in Zone AE, the 100-year flood zone, meaning the town has a 1 percent chance of a flood in any given year.

FEMA spokesman Mike Wade said the available data had changed after Matthew, prompting the change. But a report by an engineering firm hired by the town questions why the town was in a Zone X after Floyd and not in Zone AE.

Now that Princeville is in the more flood-prone zone, a combination of federal and state regulations prevent FEMA from placing the temporary housing in Princeville, Wade said Friday.

“It’s not that we don’t want to,” he said. “It’s just that we can’t.”

FEMA has relocated Matthew victims to 29 units in Tarboro and one to a mobile unit on their private site. Wade said. It hasn’t found land in or near Princeville for additional units, he said.

Meanwhile, 52 households remain in hotels, state officials said Friday.

But Gerald said the town has found private property contiguous to Princeville where the owner is willing for mobile housing to be placed. He said he didn’t want to provide more details because the town is still negotiating with the property owner.

Gerald also met Thursday with Dempsey Benton, who is overseeing recovery efforts for Gov. Roy Cooper, and left that meeting frustrated.

“People have been displaced since October,” Gerald said. “OCTOBER.”

Benton wasn’t available for comment Friday. However, the director of the state Division of Emergency Management said officials have several programs going in Princeville, including one to find rental housing for people in hotels.

“We know they’re hurting,” director Mike Sprayberry said. “Our hearts go out to the people of Princeville. We’re doing everything we can do. That’s the bottom line. This is not something we can just come into and just casually take a quick look at and say this is what you need to do.”

Residents have until March 31 to decide whether they want to rebuild their homes in Princeville, elevate their homes or seek a buyout from FEMA.

A report by the Army Corps of Engineers that took 15 years to complete concludes that it would cost more than $21 million to make several improvements to the levee that’s supposed to protect Princeville.


Follow Martha Waggoner on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mjwaggonernc

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