Dealing with FEMA is a process, one that many local governments say has improved in recent years. But, it does take time to implement emergency relief measures in the wake of storms and other natural disasters. Following Hurricane Matthew on Saturday, Oct. 8, the City of Fayetteville had an advantage over other local jurisdictions. Officials had entered into an agreement with Crowder-Gulf of Mobile, Alabama, several years ago. It’s a disaster support firm capable of providing rapid response to emergencies that require outside support. Within 10 days of the hurricane, three Crowder-Gulf crews rolled into town with large trucks. Before long, five more double units joined the effort.
Fayetteville’s emergency response began overnight on Oct. 8. FAST buses drove through neighborhoods, taking residents impacted by flooding to shelters. PWC emergency crews began the massive task of restoring electricity to 40,000 homes. They did so in less than three days. On Sunday, Oct. 9, crews from the Parks and Street Departments began clearing downed trees and other debris from city streets.
Environmental Services followed with what would be a massive task of collecting the debris. “Six city crews and trucks equipped with large claws began doing what they could to gather trees and other debris,” said Interim Environmental Services Director James Rhodes.
Cumberland County government didn’t have the advantage of a prearranged storm team on call. It had to start the process from scratch. “We have tried to assure residents who had storm debris that we would hire contractors as soon as possible,” said county spokesperson Sally Shutt, but it took two months.
Staff created requests for proposals and then solicited contractors. Weeks later, County Commissioners authorized the County Manager to execute the contracts. But then came legal and procurement reviews. Once the draft contracts were completed, they were submitted to two chosen companies for their review, all of this according to Assistant County Manager Tracy Jackson.
Then came more planning and a schedule for the debris pick-up. “Staff proceeded cautiously and methodically with the advice of legal and our disaster recovery consultant to retain reputable contractors who could do the debris removal work quickly, safely, and according to state and FEMA regulations,” Jackson said. For the most part, unincorporated areas of the county have been serviced by now.
It was a much bigger undertaking for city government. All 148 square miles of the city were either inundated by flood waters and/or overrun with debris from fallen trees and branches plus all the mess stirred up from flood waters. Scouts travelled the entire city, time and again, to make sure truckers had been or were scheduled everywhere. They told officials they drove 5,000 miles. “Debris collection teams have made as many as three passes in some neighborhoods,” said spokesperson Jackie Tuckey. Crowder-Gulf staff stayed in close touch with the environmental services team. “We met every day to exchange information,” Tuckey added.
Construction of demolition scrap from damaged homes and buildings also had to be picked up. “That material went to the county landfill, while vegetative debris was taken to a temporary site off S. Reilly Rd. where it was ground into mulch.” As of mid-December, 65,000 cubic yards of debris had been collected. To put that in perspective, a cubic yard of debris is about the size of a Volkswagon Beetle.
Crowder-Gulf crews are on holiday break until Jan. 2, when they hope to wrap up the massive undertaking. “We’ve done fairly well, said Rhodes. “We’ve worked well together.” No one is willing to make an educated guess what the project is costing. FEMA allows up to 180 days for reimbursement. Communities are compensated by FEMA at a higher rate of 85 percent of actual cost during the first two months.