Governor eyes flood damage in Cabarrus County
By Joanie Morris
CONCORD ó Gov. Mike Easley cut his trip to Denver short for Cabarrus County.
Easley was visiting the Mile High City to hear presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama speak at the Democratic National Convention.
“I need to be here,” Easley said during a news conference at Concord Regional Airport on Thursday afternoon. He visited the area to get updated information on flooding and other issues the area has battled since Tuesday, when more than 11 inches of rain fell in some spots.
He gave an update to media at the conference.
“It’s been an outstanding response all across the state, especially here in Cabarrus County, where they got the most damage,” Easley said.
Based on collections from the Concord Regional Airport, Cabarrus County received 11.4 inches of rain.
Easley said six roads in Cabarrus County and one in Mecklenburg remained closed. In Cabarrus County alone, more than 200 residents had to be evacuated, with 51 coming from Kannapolis Village Long Term Care facility. In addition, 70 structures were damaged across the county, some extensively. The Swift Water Rescue Team in Cabarrus rescued 18 people from cars and homes. One woman was even located via GPS on her cell phone. In several areas, flood waters reached an estimated 6 feet, Easley said.
The troublesome weather is over for now, but Easley warned more could be on the way. While there is no significant threat expected from Gustav as it makes its way toward the Gulf Coast, Easley said rain is still anticipated through much of the weekend.
“Additional rain is coming,” he said. “You could see the rain clouds (flying in). People need to be thinking about that.”
Easley warned people to stay off of flooded roads and not to drive through standing water. “Please stay behind the barricades,” he said.
With all the extra rain, Easley said counties that were in exceptional drought conditions have moved down one level to extreme conditions.
“Most of the rain is welcome,” Easley added. “It took several seasons to get into this drought, and it will take several to get out.”
Flying in, Easley said rain clouds were the only thing visible, so he couldn’t take an air tour to view the damage.
However, based on photos he has seen and what he heard from local government officials, “it reminded me a little bit of what we saw down east in (Hurricane) Floyd back in 1999,” he said.
State and federal funding for disaster relief could take a few days to weeks, Easley said.
“I wish I could give you more specific information,” he said. “There are formulas that come into play. We work within these and get creative if we have to.”
Depending on the final assessment from the Cabarrus County Emergency Management Division, the county could see funding from both the state and federal governments. But rough estimates throughout the county are not expected until Tuesday at the earliest.
“We haven’t declared or asked for federal relief yet because we don’t have all the numbers,” he added. “We’re going to do everything we can. … Bureaucratic red tape will start getting cut Tuesday morning.”
In addition, Easley said if more rain comes and causes additional flooding problems, the assessments could take even longer.
“If we get significant rain, the assessment will have to continue past (Tuesday),” he said. More rain could mean more damage and that state damage assessment teams could get called elsewhere.
The state damage assessment teams are expected to begin work in Cabarrus County with local officials this morning.
If more rain comes, Easley said that will be considered part of the same event, which would help Cabarrus County meet federal and state thresholds for funding.
“The numbers always change,” Easley warned. “They change from day to day.”
The city of Concord was the only local government to release preliminary numbers on damage at Thursday’s conference. According to early estimates, approximately $1.2 million in damage was done to city infrastructure alone. That does not count private residences, businesses and other city-owned property.
“These are all rough estimates,” said Concord spokeswoman Deborah Clark. The preliminary numbers are based on information received so far from department heads. Detailed costs will come at a later date. “We’re still studying infrastructure,” she said, estimating approximately 10 percent of Concord flooded.
Also in attendance at Thursday’s conference were Salisbury native Brian Beatty, secretary of the N.C. Department of Crime Control and Public Safety; officials from Harrisburg and Concord; Cabarrus County commissioners; Concord Fire and Life Safety officials; Cabarrus County Sheriff Brad Riley and several other members of the Sheriff’s Office; and Bobby Smith, director of Emergency Management for Cabarrus County. Some of the information released also included details from Kannapolis.