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Cooper ignores legislative clouds, sees silver lining in rebuilding Princeville

September 5th, 2018

— Almost two years after Hurricane Matthew inundated much of eastern North Carolina, some communities are still struggling to recover.

In Princeville, the nation’s oldest town settled by freed blacks, the Town Hall sits empty, abandoned homes have gaping windows, and the senior center is perched on a 15-foot-high foundation without any visible way to get inside.

The water inside Dail Transmission was 3 feet deep and included fish, but the auto shop reopened after a lot of hard work and some help from relief funds. Owner Tommy Bolton told Gov. Roy Cooper on Tuesday that business has been slow to come back.

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“With so many people in town that have been displaced and are still displaced, at first we were down a good 50 percent,” Bolton said. “We did a lot of work from out of town, and that’s really what kept us going. And now, you know, slowly but surely, some of the locals are coming back.”

Roosevelt and Bernice Noble returned in June to the home they’ve lived in for 40 years. They told Cooper they’re beyond grateful to the volunteers who rebuilt it with federal and state funding.

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But other longtime Princeville residents have decided to move on for good.

Lucy Bodie was one of the first tenants at Hilma Greens, a new affordable housing complex in nearby Tarboro. She said she moved seven or eight times after the hurricane, looking for a permanent place to live.

“I have enjoyed it since I got here. I don’t even think about the floods,” Bodie said. “I’m not going back to Princeville because I got scared. I was flooded out twice and lost everything.”

More residents could soon be following her. Cooper said many are in the final stages of deciding whether to rebuild or take buyouts. The state has acquired 53 acres along the town’s border to allow residents who want to stay to rebuild on higher ground.

Although recovery has been slow, Cooper said, more than $30 million in state and federal disaster relief has already been given out in Edgecombe County, and federal officials last week approved the county’s environmental review, opening the door to even more funding through Community Development Block Grants.

“There’s a little over $19 million that will be available for them, and I know that everyone’s working very hard to get that done,” he said, noting that about 300 people have applied for the grants.

Republican lawmakers say the administration isn’t working hard enough. They’ve criticized Cooper for the slow pace of recovery and have set up a committee to investigate how funds have been handled.

“What we need to do here is not use hurricane recovery as a political football,” Cooper said. “We need to work together to make sure that people get the relief they deserve. … I believe we can work together for a better eastern North Carolina and make sure that we’re ready for the next storm.”

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