‘I’m scared to death’: Fears Hurricane Florence will destroy thousands of homes in the poorest towns, leaving residents homeless and unable to rebuild

Wednesday, September 12, 2018
By Paul Martin

12 September 2018

Hurricane Florence could destroy thousands of homes in the poorest towns, leaving residents homeless and unable to rebuild, experts have warned.

The ‘monster’ storm’s predicted path means trouble for low-income communities in eastern North Carolina and South Carolina, which were historically built on lower, flood-prone land while the rich took the higher ground.

The town of Princeville was recently battered by Hurricane Matthew in 2016, and many of its 2,300 residents fear they will have to abandon the town for good if Florence causes similar devastation.

‘It’s scaring me to death,’ said James Howell Jr. ‘If I lose my place, I ain’t coming back. I’m not coming back to Princeville no more.’

He still has furniture wrapped in tarpaulin on his porch because he is still rebuilding his living room after the damage caused by Hurricane Matthew, which left two feet of standing water in his house.

Howell figures he has two options if he needs to flee. His daughter lives about 30 miles west, away from the river. That’s certainly where his most prized possessions loaded aboard his pickup are likely going Wednesday, he said.

And his granddaughter is staying in a secure motel through her retail employer’s largess, so maybe Howell and his wife could rest there, he said.

The rich have long claimed higher ground along waterways, and that left freed slaves to claim bottom land that made Princeville into the country’s first town incorporated by black Americans.

Many people with limited means like the disabled Howells will struggle to escape Florence, or build back when its damage is done.

The median household income of Princeville’s is about $28,000 a year compared to the statewide $48,000, and almost six out of ten town residents have public health insurance coverage like Medicare, Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program in 2016, according to the US Census Bureau.

Florence’s predicted path means trouble for some of the poorest communities in eastern North Carolina and South Carolina, said Susan Cutter, director of the Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute at the University of South Carolina.

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