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Our Opinion: Shortchanging N.C. on hurricane relief a slap in the face

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Hurricane Matthew turned country roads and suburban streets into lakes. Thousands were flooded out of their homes. Dozens of cars were swept away in rushing water. Twenty-eight people lost their lives.

Here in Wilson County, emergency officials fielded 2,500 calls for help. A 65-year-old man drowned near Saratoga and a 51-year-old woman died near Sims, both fatalities occurring after the victims’ cars were caught in floodwater. More than 530 county residents applied for Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance.

Yet Congress and President Donald Trump approved just $6.1 million of North Carolina’s $929 million disaster relief request — less than 1 percent.

Gov. Roy Cooper was stunned. In a letter to the president, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, he urged the officials to reconsider.

Cooper also extended an invitation — Come and see for yourselves.

“Whenever @realDonaldTrump and congressional leaders are ready I’ll show them the damage in NC firsthand,” Cooper tweeted on Thursday, tagging the president’s Twitter handle.

Trump wrote a dozen tweets in the following 24 hours, finding time to needle celebrity foe Rosie O’Donnell in the aftermath of FBI Director James Comey’s firing, blast the “Fake Media” and suggest that White House press briefings could be canceled. Yet responding to Cooper didn’t rate as a priority.

Rep. G.K. Butterfield, a Wilson Democrat who represents North Carolina’s 1st Congressional District, noted that the one-two punch of torrential rain from Tropical Storm Julia and downpours from Hurricane Matthew tested the Tar Heel State with “one of the worst hurricane seasons in its history.”

“Today, too many communities in North Carolina are still struggling to recover and rebuild,” Butterfield said, vowing to work with the governor and his congressional colleagues to lobby for additional funding.

Rep. George Holding, a Raleigh Republican whose 2nd Congressional District includes west-central Wilson County, noted that Congress approved more than $330 million in immediate disaster relief last year. But he signed on to the full $929 million request and agrees that more must be done.

“North Carolina’s senators and congressmen — both Democrats and Republicans — are working together to obtain additional hurricane relief,” Holding said in a statement.

Disaster relief transcends politics. This is not about Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals. It’s about North Carolinians and Americans.

We share our state officials’ disappointment with the inadequate and underwhelming response from Congress. Hurricane Matthew brought some of the worst flooding eastern North Carolina has seen in a century. Federal officials have an obligation to pitch in for the good of their constituents.

Our state is hardly bowing and scraping for handouts. The Internal Revenue Service collected more than $78 billion in federal taxes from North Carolinians in 2015, with last year’s revenues likely topping $80 billion.

We deserve a small share of that money to rebuild homes, businesses and vital infrastructure damaged in Matthew’s mayhem.

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