PEMBROKE — Gov. Roy Cooper this week pledged to keep pushing to find money to help North Carolina counties with Hurricane Matthew relief efforts, including Robeson County, which he called “Ground Zero” for the October storm and the epic flooding that it delivered.
Cooper was in Pembroke on Thursday to address participants of the Lumbee Tribe Economic Summit held on the campus of The University of North Carolina at Pembroke. During his brief remarks, he also announced that he has sent a letter to members of the state’s congressional delegation asking both Democrats and Republicans to throw support behind the Lumbees in their quest to receive what he called long overdue full federal recognition.
The governor said that he believes there is “strong commitment” among members of the state’s congressional delegation to push for more federal aid to fund Matthew-related relief efforts. He sent a strongly worded message to President Donald Trump after the state received just $6.1 million for Matthew relief after asking for more than $900 million.
Congress had provided $300 million for emergency assistance in December.
“One thing I know from personal observation was the destruction caused by the storm,” Cooper said. “Twenty-eight lives were lost in the storm and damage statewide is estimated to have been $4.8 billion. You here all know too well about the storm. Robeson County was Ground Zero.”
Cooper said that the destruction he saw in Lumberton and Robeson County shortly after Matthew passed through the area is “certainly pushing” him to do everything he can to help those suffering from the storm to recover and again live normal lives.
State leaders are banking on help from the Trump administration to help find emergency assistance for the state, especially the Southeast.
“I invited the president himself to come down and look at the devastation,” Cooper said, an invitation he sent through Twitter.
Cooper said that Matthew did “spotlight” problems that already existed throughout the region, included poverty, a difficulty in finding good jobs and a lack of affordable housing.
According to the governor, hurricane relief is just the tip of the iceberg.
“We need to work for long-term structural changes that can help people,” he said.
Cooper was introduced at the summit by Harvey Godwin Jr., chairman of the Lumbee Tribe. He called the governor “a friend of the Lumbee people.”
“This is not his first appearance here,” said Godwin. “When he visited us before we saw what was in his heart for the people of North Carolina, especially the Lumbee people.”
Matthew’s worst devastation was South Lumberton and West Lumberton, which straddle the Lumber River, which reached about 24 feet, more than 10 feet aboved flood level. Although no damage estimate has been assigned to Robeson, about a quarter of the money that has come to the state from the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been to Robeson, which would suggest local damage in excess of $1 billion.
The storm damaged as many as 10,000 structures locally, and displaced as many as 5,000 people, many of whom have not returned to the county. There are still people living in temporary housing.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.