After Hurricane Matthew hit North Carolina, Gov. Pat McCrory visited several eastern counties to see the pain it had brought to thousands of people.
Friday he came to Sampson County.
When his helicopter landed in the Agri-Exposition Center parking lot, he was greeted by officials who worked long hours to make sure residents here were safe, before making a trip to the Sampson County Emergency Operations Center to listen to details about the county’s plight and efforts to recover.
“The teamwork here is absolutely amazing,” the governor said to a room full of local government leaders and emergency professionals.
While sitting down with them, McCrory stressed the importance of applying for assistance in the future. Sampson County was recently added to a list of counties to receive federal relief.
The governor came to Sampson via Tarboro, where he had toured some of the devastated areas, including Princeville, which was under water.
“This thing is the most prolonged event I’ve ever seen,” McCrory attested. “We were sitting there watching the hurricane hit Florida and the model showed it going out.”
When Matthew hit Georgia, McCrory said he became more worried when the projection shifted.
During his stops, his four priorities included power outages, water, housing and roads, which may be a little challenging with some under water in the southern region of the county.
“Our big issue there, based upon our experiences, we’re going to have to see what the stability of the road is first,” McCrory said about trying to avoid sinkholes.
State engineers will conduct studies. In the meantime, he stressed the importance of placing barricades before washouts and monitoring bad spots since some people ignore road closure signs.
Clinton Mayor Lew Starling applauded McCrory for his efforts.
“I’ve been through 17 storms as mayor and you’re doing the best job I’ve ever seen …,” Starling lauded.
McCrory mentioned how his team is putting in long hours to fix problems left from Hurricane Matthew, especially when it comes to housing. “It’s worth it because the people who are out of their homes are the ones hurting,” he said.
He also said he and his team were hoping the safety precautions put in place will help prevent any more loss of life.
“We lost 24 people and that’s what’s weighing on my mind right now,” McCrory said. “We got 24 grieving families right now in our state.”
Some of the topics discussed during the roundtable with county commissioners, EMS officials, city leaders, social services staff and others included agriculture, businesses and unemployment. He recently announced that Disaster Unemployment Assistance is available for people in 20 counties. It instructs that the Division of Employment Security to not enforce the one-week waiting period and job search requirements for workers effected by Hurricane Matthew. People unemployed because of the storm may be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits through the program. Business owners may also qualify.
Ivanhoe resident Vernell Robinson greeted McCrory when he came to the Sampson County’s headquarters for Emergency Services.
“I’m very glad and pleased that he came,” Robinson said.
Like other emergency personnel, she said she was looking forward to McCrory and other officials helping to repair the county and nearby areas.
“There’s a lot of people who can’t get back to their homes,” she said while talking about issues such as power outages and its effects on senior citizens or people with medical issues.
McCrory said one of the plans is to get hurricane victims out of shelters as soon as possible with the assistance of FEMA.
“As that number dwindles, I would highly recommenced that you get them out of schools and find an armory or find a rec center. That’s what I would recommend so you can get your schools back on schedule,” McCrory said.
Some of the other local officials present during the landing and meeting included Sampson County Commissioner Harry Parker, Commission Vice Chair Sue Lee, Assistant County Manger Susan Holder, Clinton Police Chief Jay Tilley and Sampson County Sheriff Jimmy Thornton. EMS Director Ron Bass said he appreciates the resources from the state and not being turned down for resources. EMS Division Chief Erick Herring said the governor was engaged when it came to examining damage.
“It puts it into perspective more when you do see it for yourself,” Herring said. “People can tell you how bad it is, but you don’t realize it until you see it. I think it’s nice for him to take time out of his schedule, look at it himself and see the devastation and hurt that everybody is going through.”
He was glad to see Sampson placed on the federal disaster list too.
“We got so many residences in southern Sampson County who need assistance with trying to rebuild,” Herring said.
Clinton City Manger Shawn Purvis said appreciates that needs are being addressed. Ed Causey, county manager, said the visit goes a lot way in showing how the county needs support following the hurricane.
“I think it would be devastating to have to incur all of these expenditures ourselves,” Causey said. “We’re very much appreciative of both the state and the feds for coming in and offering assistance.”
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.