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New Hanover may still get federal storm help

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — The Federal Emergency Management Agency came to Wilmington today to hear from New Hanover County and its municipalities about damage from Hurricane Irene. But are the costs of the destruction, clean-up crews and extra work enough to get federal help?

Although most agree southeastern North Carolina was fortunate to only sustain a fraction of the damages Irene could have caused, the hurricane still made waves for residents and businesses like Shuckers Oyster Bar on Market Street in Ogden.

“Five o’clock, I guess we got that big gust of wind, and it started picking up, and two trees next door at the BB&T fell over on our property and knocked our powerlines down,” Shuckers co-manager Obie Martin said.

She said Irene washed out her business for three days because of power outages resulting in a loss of around $25,000. But shuckers has gotten creative to make up for the hit from irene, because it’s unlikely FEMA will grant the county an individual assistance declaration.

County officials are hopeful, however, that FEMA will grant the county a public assistance declaration.

“We’re looking at money that the local governments expended for bringing in overtime staff, for running equipment, renting generators, anything that we did as emergency protective measures to prepare ourselves to get ready for the storm and then to respond,” New Hanover County Emergency Management Director Warren Lee said.

Lee said to get a federal declaration, the county must prove it spent around $660,000 or more, or $3.27 per person in the county.

FEMA Public Assistance Coordinator Ray Rocque said he does not know for sure, but he believes New Hanover County will receive a federal declaration.

“I think we dodged a bullet,” Rocque said. “I think Hurricane Irene could have been significantly greater. I think there is sufficient damage, or I think there will be sufficient damage to obtain a national declaration for disaster or possibly.”

“It wouldn’t be such a huge burden on our local governments’ budgets,” Lee said. “Things are tight right now at the local level, as they are at the state and federal level. If we get declared, then there would be federal assistance available.”

Back at Shuckers, the staff is glad things were not worse.

“I don’t think we had as much damage as we thought we were gonna get,” Martin said. “I think there are a lot more counties out there that were more affected by the storm than we were. I feel fortunate, very fortunate.”

If New Hanover County is included in the declaration, county officials hope to begin cleaning up debris soon. The declaration process, though, may take between a week and ten days.

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