On the road to recovery

The wait for aid tests hurricane victims’ patience

TARBORO, N.C. — Tiajuana Williams lives in a one-story apartment building in Princeville, North Carolina, that was flooded by a river bulging with rainwater from Hurricane Matthew. Before driving out of town in her Honda Civic ahead of the storm, she hurriedly packed a small bag with little more than a change of clothes.

Now, even while seeking aid to replace her belongings and arrange long-term housing, she has more pressing needs: “I ain’t got no clothes. I left my clothes in there!”

If other recent floods in Louisiana and elsewhere are any indication, she could face a long road to recovery. She filled out a FEMA application online and signed paperwork Thursday with an agency representative who met with people in Tarboro, just across the Tar River from Princeville.

But Williams was told that it could take a week or more to get to the next step, which will be a phone call from another representative who will go over her information again. She doesn’t have renter’s insurance and fears her stuff has been ruined. Making matters worse, she hasn’t been able to get to her job as a home health nurse and doesn’t expect a paycheck this week.

“I’ve had a headache for about four days,” the 53-year-old said, taking a drag off a cigarette.

Her stress may not go away anytime soon if other recent flood disasters are a guide. In Louisiana, thousands of displaced families are still waiting for government assistance after the catastrophic deluge there two months ago — from a storm system that didn’t even have a name.

Amanda Burge doesn’t feel any closer to returning to her home in Denham Springs, Louisiana.

She is struggling just to get her family on the waiting list for a government-issued mobile home, which would allow them to live on their property while they repair damage. Daily phone calls to FEMA haven’t yielded any answers for when — or if — they can get one delivered.

“We feel like we’re not making any progress forward,” said Burge, a married mother of three young sons. “We don’t want money in our pockets. We just want to go home.”

Last month, Congress authorized $500 million in flood recovery grant money for Louisiana and other states. That was before Matthew churned up the East Coast.

In West Virginia, where 23 people died in June flooding and thousands of homes were damaged or destroyed, rental options are scarce and the hilly terrain leaves few flat areas open for new construction. Clay County commissioner Jerry Linkinogger estimates nearly 1,000 people in the central West Virginia county of 8,500 residents applied for FEMA aid. The county has only one small hotel, so some flood victims left the area to find temporary housing.

“For a while, we had people living in tents,” he said. “People are just working their way back slowly.”

FEMA spokesman Rafael Lemaitre said the federal government currently has about $5 billion in a fund for all FEMA-funded disaster relief work.