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Cooper returns to Ocracoke; FEMA approval still pending

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper on Monday during his second visit to Ocracoke since Sept. 7 chats with islander Heather Johnson, right. At center is Desiree Christa Ricker. Photo: C. Leinbach

Sept. 23, 2019. 9:30 p.m.

By Connie Leinbach

Only a portion of the disaster declaration for public assistance on Ocracoke following devastating flooding by Hurricane Dorian Sept. 6 has been approved by President Donald Trump.

Although Gov. Roy Cooper, in a return trip to Ocracoke today, told islanders gathered outside the Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department, that no FEMA Public Assistance request had been approved, newly elected U.S. Rep. Greg Murphy, in a visit to Ocracoke on Saturday, had said the declaration had been approved.

But Murphy clarified in an email to the Ocracoke Observer tonight that President Trump had signed a portion of the Public Assistance request, which was the emergency declaration for immediate needs, such as state emergency services.

“That portion provides emergency protective measures limited to direct federal assistance under the Public Assistance program for Hyde County and other counties in North Carolina,” said Wayne King, Murphy’s senior adviser, in the email.

The email further stated:

“Cooper has requested the second part of public assistance and individual assistance and amended the request to add additional counties. Our office has spoken with the White House, FEMA officials, NC Emergency Management Director and Governor Cooper’s office. Dr. Murphy has been clear that this assistance is needed immediately to the people impacted by Hurricane Dorian.”

Cooper in a Sept. 13 letter asked the President to approve a request for Public Assistance, to cover the cost of infrastructure repairs and debris removal, for eastern North Carolina.

On Sept. 21, he asked for Individual Assistance, which would provide grants to residents who suffered damages from Dorian and could open the door to additional FEMA recovery programs, such as temporary housing.

On Monday, Cooper, told islanders gathered at the OVFD Monday, that the FEMA regional office No. 4 is still processing the damage assessments.

“Once that’s done, they’ll ship them to Washington,” Cooper said. “The damage estimate has been sent in.”

He noted that long-term housing money doesn’t arrive from the federal government “for a long time” after disasters. “We’ll probably have to ask for matching assistance from the General Assembly.”

Several of Cooper’s cabinet members made the trip to the island today.

Joining Cooper were Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen, Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Michael Regan, Department of Public Safety Secretary Erik Hooks, Emergency Management Director Michael Sprayberry, Department of Transportation Chief Operating Officer Bobby Lewis and Army National Guard Brigadier Gen. Todd Hunt.

Cooper on Monday also signed Executive Order 108 to authorize the NCDOT to remove Hurricane-related debris from public rights-of-way.

Murphy, who is a physician, on Saturday said that he had been seen devastation first had from Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and the earthquake in Haiti.

Murphy had also noted on his Facebook page on Saturday that the Public Assistance declaration had been signed, but in the days following, that post was taken down.

Murphy, who won the special Sept. 10 election to fill the remaining two-year term of longtime Congressman Walter Jones, who died in February, was sworn in Sept 17 to represent the Third Congressional District, which includes Ocracoke.

Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen was one of the state secretaries briefing islanders today. Photo: P. Vankevich

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