Monday, September 17, 2018

Small towns face rough road in disaster recovery

When natural disasters strike, cities usually have resources ready to respond and rebuild, But "nearly everything about recovery for small and sparsely populated places in the United States is harder," Terrence McCoy reports for The Washington Post. "Residents are more likely to be poor or disabled and contribute less in taxes to local governments. They’re comparatively isolated and can lack the prominence and political clout of their big-city counterparts that can help facilitate the flow of needed funding. When disaster strikes, even small-town residents’ credit scores take a greater beating, according to a Moody’s report last year on Harvey’s aftermath."

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That's how it was in Nichols, S.C., a town of 400. Many chose not to come back after Hurricane Matthew destroyed the town in October 2016, and other residents say they've only finished rebuilding recently. Nichols Mayor Lawson Battle told McCoy that the town felt "forgotten" during recovery efforts, and said that Florence could be "catastrophic."

Almost all of its residents evacuated this weekend after learning that flooding was likely imminent, Kirk Brown reports for the Greenville News. It's unknown how Nichols is faring now, but a but mid-Atlantic states are still struggling with heavy rains and flooding from Florence. In North Carolina, where a third of the population is rural and more people live outside of metro areas than in any other state but Texas, a meteorologist said "the worst is yet to come," Reuters reports.

"The soil is soaked and can’t absorb any more rain so that water has to go somewhere, unfortunately,” said Zach Taylor, a meteorologist with the U.S. National Weather Service. "Those rivers are going to start to crest later today and Tuesday and maybe longer."

One bright spot for small towns: they know how to lean on each other in tough times, according to Jerry Mitchell, a geography professor at the University of South Carolina and an expert on environmental hazards and vulnerability. "There is evidence of a tighter community structure that can add to resiliency for rural populations that may be harder to come by in a diverse and disconnected urban population, Mitchell told McCoy. "Isolation may help to breed this resilience as the population is used to 'being on their own.'"

But a close-knit community may not be enough. Leroy Green, a Nichols resident whose house was just repaired from Matthew in July, said he doesn't know what he'll do if his home floods again. "I ain’t got that life savings this time," he told Brown. "I don’t know what I’ll do."

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