KANW-FM

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper On Hurricane Response

Originally published on September 14, 2018 9:02 am
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper is on the line. His state is receiving the heart of Hurricane Florence. The eye of the storm is near Wrightsville Beach, N.C., which is near the seaport of Wilmington. Governor, good morning.

ROY COOPER: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What are you hearing from your emergency management officials?

COOPER: Well, we've rescued over a hundred people in New Bern, N.C. People in Jacksonville, N.C., had to be rescued from a hotel. There are still people in New Bern who need to be rescued. And we know that this is going to be a long haul for our state. Florence is an uninvited brute who doesn't want to leave. And we know that this is going to be a tough couple of days with the rain, with the storm surge, with the flooding that we know will occur in low-lying areas. We've got almost 20,000 people in 157 shelters, and the number of shelters may increase. We have close to 400,000 people without power right now.

INSKEEP: Wow.

COOPER: That will increase. And we know we're in for a long haul here, but I think we're ready.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about New Bern and Jacksonville, N.C. I'm just looking at a map. They both appear to be north and east of where the eye of the hurricane is landing, which means they're getting the worst of the winds. They're getting water blown inland. Jacksonville is near Camp Lejeune, I guess, the U.S. military base. But...

COOPER: It is.

INSKEEP: These inland towns - somewhat inland towns are flooding - why? - because the rivers near them and the estuaries near them are flooding?

COOPER: Yeah. These rivers put their - discharge their water into the ocean. This ocean surge is pushing back at those rivers, and there's nowhere for the water to go. On top of that, we're having torrential rainfalls with - that could be historic, could be, in some areas, measured in feet instead of inches and flash flooding on top of that. And we think that the flooding issues will continue to increase because the rain is going to keep coming down, and the storm surge will back the river up.

So we've spent the last week telling people to evacuate. Now we're working very hard to save lives. That is the No. 1 mission right now. And then, of course, after the storm leaves, we will be in for working for recovery, repair and long-term efforts to get people back on their feet again.

INSKEEP: Are you getting what you need from the federal government?

COOPER: Right now we are. We're working closely with our FEMA partners. They have brought down significant supplies and equipment. They are embedded in our emergency response operations. But, of course, hurricane recovery is a long-term process. It can take months and years for communities to recover. And we know that will be very expensive and will require a significant investment. And that is why it's going to be so important for us to get the federal help that we need because, you know, when you have these kinds of hurricanes, and particularly with flooding, the people who can afford it the least get hit the most.

And these are people who are in dire need of help. These are a lot of people who don't have adequate health care, which they should have, live in difficult places. A tragedy like this puts a light on the need for affordable housing. And we've been working on that significantly for the last couple of years. And this just shows us that it's a problem not only in the areas where there's flooding, but it's a problem across our state and our country, for that matter.

INSKEEP: Governor, you noted that a lot of the flooding may come from rainfall, which makes this next point relevant. The Charlotte Observer in your state had an editorial yesterday saying that cities are more vulnerable to flooding in part because a sustained rush of development has increased land surface impervious to water, meaning parking lots, buildings, that sort of thing. Are we building ourselves into worse disasters?

COOPER: We have to be smarter about our planning for building. We have to understand what climate change is doing to our coast and to our rivers. And we have to take all of that into account as we plan for the future. And right now we're worried about this storm and getting people to safety and making sure they recover. But those items have to be addressed in our long-term recovery process and just in general across our state and our country.

INSKEEP: Roy Cooper is the governor of North Carolina. Governor, thanks very much.

COOPER: Thanks very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.