September 4, 2019|By Kathleen Marks| Community Development

Hurricane Recovery: The Real Scoop and Rural Success

The Conservation Fund’s Resourceful Communities program recently brought together community members, faith leaders and government officials for a relief, recovery and resilience gathering called Hurricane Recovery: The Real Scoop and Rural Success. This was a unique opportunity for hurricane survivors, grassroots organizers and government officials to sit face-to-face and imagine a future where hurricane recovery is more efficient and inclusive. 

Geography, generational poverty and persistent exclusion make eastern North Carolina communities especially vulnerable to severe storms, as was the case with Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Florence in 2018, and now Hurricane Dorian in 2019. Significant weather events and flooding adversely and disproportionately affect low-income communities and communities of color in North Carolina and other places around the country. 

9 4 19 BHurricaneRecoverySummit ResourcefulCommunitiesProgram NorthCarolina RobinMcKinney 056 copyYouth leaders discuss storm recovery. Photo by Robin McKinney.

With more than 115 participants in attendance, a priority focus was preparedness and partnerships. Panelists emphasized the importance of developing partnerships before a storm hits, because, as community leader Randolph Keaton put it, a community’s resilience is only as good as the strength of its relationships. They noted that they have become “experts-by-experience” in meeting the needs of rural, low-income communities and communities of color that are so often excluded from traditional recovery efforts. 

“Preparedness in our viewpoint is about making sure that there's a structure in place, that when disaster happens, you know who to reach out to. It's not the time to try to figure out who's your emergency management person. What does preparedness look like? For us, the Resourceful Communities program, this network, this ground-breaking grassroots effort to bring these different organizations together is what it’s about… without partners, this work doesn’t happen, especially in the most under-resourced and under-funded communities.” 

- Dawn Baldwin Gibson, Executive Pastor of Peletah Ministries in New Bern, North Carolina

Baldwin Gibson also discussed her role as a weather ambassador with the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association (NOAA), which provides alerts about approaching storms. Hurricane Florence brought unparalleled flooding, and information from NOAA helped them locate relief supplies in safe, accessible areas. Through their Facebook group, her organization broadcasts alerts and connects those in immediate need with responders, especially when 911 systems are overloaded with calls.

Randolph Keaton, Executive Director of Men and Women United for Youth and Families in Delco, North Carolina, noted the need to partner with public agencies and nonprofits to get resources where they are most needed. After Hurricane Florence, his organization—which is not typically focused on disaster relief—immersed itself in helping neighbors get back on their feet. They worked with Operation Airdrop, which mobilized pilots to bring supplies to areas of eastern North Carolina where flooding had blocked roads. 

9 4 19 38587Photo by Men and Women United for Youth and Families.

Keaton is now focused on helping his community better prepare for future storms and supporting long-term recovery efforts. Almost a year after Hurricane Florence, he says people in his community are still suffering. Many homes are covered with tarps and are filled with mold. Keaton cited the need for long-term recovery groups that can educate victims about available resources.

Henry Lancaster, former Deputy Secretary of NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources, emphasized the impacts of climate change.

“North Carolina is one of those States that will, from here on out, be a target of climate change, and the number one weapon by which we will be assaulted is water. The water problem, it stays, and it does a lot of long-term damage. During Florence last year, as much rain fell during that one event as there is water in the Chesapeake Bay,” said Lancaster.

Lancaster encouraged participants to engage with the new North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resilience as policies and processes are being developed to support communities. 

Chief Operating Officer of the North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resiliency, Laura Hogshead, acknowledged challenges with recovery from Hurricane Florence and other disasters. Hogshead spoke about efforts to better serve communities, acknowledging that the process is a slow road paved with paperwork. She encouraged community leaders to connect with her team to support better recovery strategies.

9 4 19 EFM Family

Photo by Episcopal Farmworker Ministry.

Youth leaders from NC Field discussed farmworkers’ experiences - from how climate change is affecting their work to their limited access to storm relief. Youth Ambassadors representing Men and Women United discussed their experiences as volunteers with Operation Airdrop, picking up food and supplies from a local air strip and distributing them to those in need, even when some of their own homes were flooded. They also noted their awakening to the realities of climate change and the persistent challenges for rural youth of color. One presenter talked about the continuing need, almost a year after Hurricane Florence hit:

“My grandmother’s house had to be gutted, and it still hasn't been fixed yet,” he explained. “No one can live in it anymore. So that was kind of heartbreaking to me. I had a lot of memories in that house. Good and bad, but it was still my house. And when I got old enough I wanted to buy the house and live in it. But now seeing that it's basically wasted, there's not a whole lot we can do. We're still trying to find a way to rebuild it.”
– Anthony Gregg

Through visuals and maps, partners from NC State University’s Coastal Dynamics Design Lab helped participants see opportunities for better land use planning built on community input. There is significant need to increase capacity for adaptive land uses that mitigate weather impacts, such as flooding, and improve community amenities through recreation and ecotourism.

9 4 19 Screen Shot 2019 09 04 at 11.53.58 AMAn example of land use planning in North Carolina. Image courtesy of NC State University Coastal Dynamics Design Lab.

The final session highlighted resources and adaptation strategies for landowners and farmers available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Millard Locklear, a Lumbee farmer who’s shifted to sustainable practices, shared some of the ways he prepares for storm impacts, including things as simple as clearing irrigation ditches to enhance water flow. Participants also heard about the amazing success of the Great Coharie River Initiative, which has restored 20 miles of river and also restored cultural ties to their origin site. Philip Bell, a Coharie leader, noted that, before the river restoration, Hurricane Matthew dumped about 18” of rain on their community, and the river bridge was shut down for days. Hurricane Florence, on the other hand, dropped 30” of water but the floodwaters crested overnight—a direct result of their environmental restoration and stewardship.

The Hurricane Recovery: The Real Scoop and Rural Success gathering demonstrated that grassroots organizers, farmers, faith leaders, and community members across eastern North Carolina have taken on tremendous responsibility to care for their communities. As we prepare for Hurricane Dorian and other coming storms, our Resourceful Communities team will continue to strengthen these networks across eastern North Carolina and support their roles in hurricane recovery and resiliency. As this summit gave testimony, we believe in the resourcefulness of communities and their ability to create stronger, more inclusive and efficient solutions for all people and places moving forward. 

Written By

Kathleen Marks

In her role as North Carolina Director of Resourceful Communities program for The Conservation Fund, Kathleen Marks engages economically-distressed but resource-rich rural communities. She leads initiatives that help communities increase opportunities to get active outdoors, improve access to healthy foods, and utilize faith resources (land, kitchens, volunteers) to address root causes of hunger. Kathleen administers a small grant program that’s awarded more than $4 million. She is responsible for program development, joint fundraising and evaluation. Kathleen has developed a broad understanding of challenges facing rural areas and believes our natural resources provide infrastructure for vital, healthy communities.