Gov. Cooper visits small businesses impacted by Hurricane Florence

Gov. Roy Cooper tours downtown Wilmington following Hurricane Florence. (Source: WECT)
Gov. Roy Cooper tours downtown Wilmington following Hurricane Florence. (Source: WECT)(WECT)
Updated: Sep. 28, 2018 at 12:20 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Governor Roy Cooper toured downtown Wilmington Friday morning and spoke to several small business owners impacted by Hurricane Florence.

The message he heard from several of the business owners was: 'Downtown Wilmington is open for business, and the word needs to get out across the state".

Several of the businesses did not suffer major damage and many have already reopened. Cathy Williamson, owner of Kilwin’s Ice Cream, Chocolates and Fudge, says she will be reopening later Friday afternoon after being closed for more than two weeks. She says the downtown business community has done a good job on social media letting people know which stores are open.

“All the merchants around here have been really good to put all of that information out, like who’s open and who’s not,” said Williamson. “People have been very nice. When they walk through the door and see that we’re not open, they’re not angry. They’re disappointed. But they say they’ll be back the minute we open up. I think it’s been okay.”

A larger issue raised during the governor’s tour is the availability of temporary housing for storm survivors who cannot return to their homes because of damage, or those who have been evicted from damaged apartment complexes. Rep. Deb Butler asked Albie Lewis, the FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer accompanying Gov. Cooper on the tour, what the process is for providing housing once storm shelters are closed. Butler said she has heard from many elderly residents forced to leave Cape Fear Apartments in downtown Wilmington because of storm damage. She said many of them fear they will be forced out into the street.

“I have a fear that we don’t have enough motel stock to accommodate everyone,” Rep. Butler said. “I have a fear that we don’t have enough rental properties available, so I want to understand what the next layer is. I don’t want anybody in my district falling through the cracks.”

Lewis stressed it is important for storm victims to register for FEMA assistance, in order to start the process of getting help from FEMA’s Temporary Sheltering Assistance program. Lewis said FEMA is working to find vacant hotel rooms or apartments as possible housing options. He also said resources like trailers or recreational vehicles are on the way to the coast for those purposes.

“This is going to be a significant challenge across the state, and we’re working as hard as we can to help provide places for people,” Gov. Cooper said. “We still have shelters that are operational if people simply have nowhere to go, they can go to these shelters that we continue to have open across the state.”

Mayor Bill Saffo of Wilmington said FEMA has scouted locations in both the city and New Hanover County to put up temporary housing sites. He also stressed that shelters will not be closed until there are housing options available for displaced survivors.

“Obviously we’re not going to shut down the shelter until we have a place for these people to go to, number one,” Saffo said. “Number two is, how do we work the FEMA that if we don’t have these affordable units available in this p[articular area, what are they going to do to bring in additional resources for us, possibly trailers, that people can get into? What we don’t want to do is put people out on the street, and we’re not going to do that.”

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