KINSTON, N.C. – After a few days’ wait, Federal Emergency Management Agency officials are in eastern North Carolina today, assessing the damage done by Hurricane Florence and creating the infrastructure to address the need. But local community groups are already several steps ahead of them.
They include the North Carolina Hurricane Relief Effort and Community Rapid Response Network. The collective is made up of organizations that are no strangers to the people most in need of help. Courtney Patterson is an organizer there, helping to coordinate their effort.
“The reason we’re able to reach these people is because we were already in touch with them, prior to this storm,” says Patterson. “And we realized that we needed to come together in solidarity with the people who are affected, and to try and provide and meet their needs.”
The Network is made up of people from Eastern NC Triangle, the Environmental Justice Network and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, along with other grassroots groups.
According to Patterson, they began preparing early last week, speaking with community groups from Hurricane Harvey about best practices for helping people. They’re seeking financial support, as well as donations of toiletries, household cleaning supplies and roof-patching materials.
Eastern North Carolina is home to some of the highest poverty rates in the state, up to 35 percent, with many minority communities confronting generational poverty. The state average is around 16 percent.
Patterson says he and others were struck by what was missing in the images of President Donald Trump’s visit to the coast on Thursday.
“Discrimination is still a factor in what we do,” he notes. “You might have seen one or two black faces there – but see, the people that I know that have been inundated by this storm are black faces, and there was no focus put on any of that.”
The risk management agency Moody’s Analytics estimates the damage from Hurricane Florence could be as much as $22 billion. Hurricane Matthew cost roughly $6 billion.