By Peter Vankevich
Saturday was certainly a breaking news day.
Ocracoke’s newly elected Congressman Rep. Greg Murphy (R-Pitt County) was officially sworn in to the 116th Congress on Tuesday to fill out the remaining term of Walter Jones who died in February. He immediately faced a major constituent crisis and arrived on Ocracoke Saturday morning to see first-hand the historic damage wrought by Hurricane Dorian on Sept. 6.
Outside the OVFD building, which serves as the disaster relief hub, he met with a large group of islanders who heard of his visit primarily through social media. He later met with first responders and officials with the National Park Service and Hyde County.
“I’m here to visit with you and listen to you, and try to find out your stories,” he told the group.
He explained disaster declaration process.
“There are several different steps that we go through with both the state and the federal government to get disaster relief aid. The first step is to get public assistance and the governor has issued a request for federal assistance that now sits on the President’s desk,” he said.
“And I promise you first thing Monday morning, I’ll be on the telephone with the White House and with FEMA in Washington, D.C., to try to expedite things,” he told the gathering. “The second part is individual assistance that must be requested by the governor who will visit the island on Monday to survey the damage. Once that request goes in, then it will move up the chain to the federal government. And you will have me as your advocate, to try to work on individual assistance to try to get each of your individual needs taken care of.”
Tom Pahl, Ocracoke’s county commissioner, spoke up on behalf of the community.
“I think it’s important that you travel around the village and see the houses that have been damaged or destroyed,” he said. “Those are all the older homes and occupied by older families. These are not vacation homes and I think it’s important that FEMA and the President understand that we aren’t asking for help for somebody with a second or third home on a resort island in North Carolina to get bailed out by the federal government. We are asking for help for the families and their homes.” His comments drew applause from those who had gathered.
Murphy left the OVFD to tour the north end of the island with Cape Hatteras National Seashore officials. While there, Murphy got a call from Washington confirming that President Donald Trump had signed the public assistance disaster declaration and returned to the OVFD to make the announcement.
The freshman congressman has had previous personal and professional experience with natural disasters. A urologist, he is a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill School of Medicine and has served as a medical missionary in Africa, India and in Haiti after the devastating earthquake in 2010. He also organized a group of physicians and aid workers to mobilize on the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina.
His medical profession includes a private practice, a professor of surgery at East Carolina School of Medicine and he is division chief of Urology at Vidant Medical Center in Greenville. He was appointed in 2015 to the N.C. General Assembly District 9 (Pitt County) to finish the term of Brian Brown, who resigned and was reelected twice. He won the special election for North Carolina’s Third Congressional District on Sept. 10, garnering nearly 62 percent of the vote defeating Allen Thomas (D) with a margin of 70,142 to 42,570. He is expected to seek reelection in 2020.
“I know this has been a horrific event and I will do everything I can to help and be your advocate,” he promised.
Gov. Cooper, who visited the island on Sept. 7, will return on Monday.
A few hours after Murphy’s visit, Cooper announced that today he sent the Individual Assistance request to President Trump for federal assistance to North Carolina residents hurting from Hurricane Dorian. See story here.
Meanwhile, the OVFD building that holds lots of donated food, cleaning materials and much more and where islanders can make assistance requests, will be closed on Sunday to give the many volunteers who have put in countless hours since the hurricane struck, a much-needed break.