Approximately 1,500 People Still In Shelters After Hurricane Florence

Sep 27, 2018
Originally published on September 28, 2018 7:28 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

It's been about two weeks since Hurricane Florence made landfall, and around 1,500 people are still in temporary shelters. NPR's Nurith Aizenman visited one of those shelters in Lumberton, N.C., and sent this report.

NURITH AIZENMAN, BYLINE: This shelter is in Lumberton's high school. Jason Vincent is the Red Cross volunteer who is managing it. He gives a tour.

JASON VINCENT: This is the high school gymnasium. This is where they live and sleep and do most other things.

AIZENMAN: When the hurricane hit, almost 700 people crammed in. Two weeks later, more than 120 people are still here in a setup that looks very temporary.

And there's just, like, cot after cot after cot.

The Red Cross volunteers say they're doing their best to keep spirits up - bringing in counselors and employment and housing specialists to talk to the adults, providing activities like coloring books for the kids.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLUTE PLAYING)

AIZENMAN: That's a volunteer who's taken to playing his flute to the children. Talk to the people staying here, and a lot of them are very appreciative. But you also hear frustration. One man says he's chafing under all the rules - no smoking, lights out by 10. A mother with three kids says it's been stressful on them to witness all the heated arguments that break out among adults, people cursing each other over whose cot belongs to whom. An older woman sitting by herself in a chair - her name is Betty Carlene Britt - says she has one word for this experience.

BETTY CARLENE BRITT: Hell.

AIZENMAN: Nights are the worst.

BRITT: You have a bunch of people talking, babies crying. They keep it so cold. I've got a sheet, two blankets and a quilt on my bed, and I got a real thick housecoat. And I still freeze at night in here.

AIZENMAN: But she can't leave. Her house is still underwater.

BRITT: Even if I can go home, the mildew and the mold's going to be bad.

AIZENMAN: It's a one-story brick house. She was renting it for $650 a month. She's on disability, and that rent payment eats up practically her entire monthly check. FEMA has told her they'll be sending her $800 to rent a new place. But there are not a lot of affordable rentals around here. She takes out her phone.

BRITT: Look at the prices of the houses - $1,550. This is $1,275.

AIZENMAN: The Red Cross says the housing hunt is proving a challenge for a lot of people.

BRAD KIESERMAN: North Carolina had a lack of rental housing stock before Florence struck.

AIZENMAN: Brad Kieserman is vice president of disaster operations and logistics. He says the preexisting housing shortage is a big reason why more people than they'd expect are still in shelters this long after the hurricane and why many are likely to remain in this limbo for weeks longer.

KIESERMAN: And so now there's probably going to be a significant amount of pressure in that market for rental properties for people who need temporary housing.

AIZENMAN: A few days ago, Betty Carlene Britt thought she might actually have found a way out. She says she signed up with FEMA and was told to go to a motel. They'd provide her with a room. But when she got to the motel, she was told she wasn't eligible for that kind of aid.

BRITT: I even asked them - I said, how much is a room for a night?

AIZENMAN: She was thinking, I'll just pay it myself.

BRITT: And they told me $77. And I don't have but, like, 50 bucks on me to last me till my check comes. So I just - I don't know what to do.

AIZENMAN: She says, right there in the motel, she put her hands over her eyes and started to cry.

BRITT: I just want to get away from here. I mean, I just wish I could get away for one night.

AIZENMAN: Nurith Aizenman, NPR News, Lumberton, N.C.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.