A long recovery means Florence’s worst isn’t over

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Now that Hurricane Florence has dissipated, it’s easy to think that the worst of this disaster is over. But for many residents of North Carolina and our neighbors in South Carolina, the disaster will be with them for some time to come, as flood waters linger and they do their best to recover from the loss of property and, in some cases, loved ones. This is no time to abandon them.

Nearly 450 flood evacuees were staying at Joel Coliseum at one point, the Winston-Salem Journal’s Sarah Newell reported, and some, like hundreds evacuated to other parts of the state, have no homes to return to. Their fate is up in the air.

The response to the storm, in terms of support and rescue, was strong. State and local officials have praised FEMA’s response, which involved nearly 20,000 federal and military personnel, The Associated Press reported. More than 3,000 people have been rescued from the floodwaters and 2 million meals delivered to those in need, according to federal officials.

Much credit rightly goes to FEMA administrator and Hickory resident William “Brock” Long, who coordinated efforts and placed FEMA’s feet on the ground before Florence landed.

Fourteen members of the Winston-Salem Fire Department’s water-rescue team spent much of the week in flooded Lillington, the Journal’s John Hinton reported.

There were also strong volunteer efforts as neighbors reached out their hands to help.

One truck driver from Greenback, Tennessee, drove a school bus to South Carolina to save pets living in shelters there, WRAL-TV reported. That’s going above and beyond.

Charlotte Hornets owner and longtime North Carolina resident Michael Jordan pledged $2 million toward relief efforts. The Hornets urged others to donate to the American Red Cross, the United Way and the Second Harvest Food Bank. Millions of dollars aren’t required to “be like Mike” — just a few will go a long way.

President Trump visited North Carolina and South Carolina last Wednesday to survey the damage and offer moral support. Some bristled at his brand of humor, but most were genuinely cheered by his visit. In a briefing at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in Havelock, he told residents, “We will never forget your loss. We will never leave your side. We’re with you all the way.”

Time will tell how well his administration follows through. But on Wednesday, we were glad to have him.

The storm not only left human wreckage, but flooding overran chicken and hog farms, killing about 3.4 million chickens and turkeys and 5,500 hogs in the east, according to the AP. Several hog waste lagoons were breached and spilled their contents. Kemp Burdette, the Cape Fear Riverkeeper, told NPR on Thursday that an estimated 7 million gallons of untreated swine feces were emptied into floodwaters, creating extremely high levels of dangerous bacteria that will come into contact with flooded communities.

One of Duke Energy’s coal-ash landfills was also breached and overflowed.

For people who wonder why we need stringent environmental regulations — this is one reason. Especially if, as predicted, such storms become more frequent and severe.

Florence will likely shine a light on the high level of poverty that exists in the flooded areas in eastern North Carolina. Many families in high-poverty, few-job areas were already struggling. Cities like Princeville hadn’t yet fully recovered from 2016’s Hurricane Matthew when Florence came calling.

As columnist John Hood wrote recently, North Carolina will recover and thrive. Let’s hope that’s true of all parts of our beautiful state.