After the Storms

Some ways to support affected communities

Water flowing out of the Cape Fear River on Sept. 17, 2018, in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence. This photo was taken from a North Carolina National Guard helicopter, as part of a daily search for people in distress. (U.S. Army Photo by Staff Sgt. Mary Junell)

Hurricane season for the Atlantic officially ended on Friday, November 30th, but the effects of Hurricanes Florence and Michael—and Matthew in 2016—on Wilmington and nearby communities are still ongoing.

Over the weekend of September 14, Hurricane Florence dumped nearly three feet of rain on our town. Our home institution, the University of North Carolina Wilmington, was closed for a month, the longest it has ever been closed for a weather event.

We were lucky: the extent of the damage for Ecotone and Lookout’s offices was a few leaky ceiling tiles, and many lost hours of reading, editing, and production. We’re grateful to the subscribers and submitters and contributors who supported us during that time, and who have been so patient as we’ve gotten back on our feet. We’re thrilled about the release of Trespass, the new Lookout Books anthology of essays from Ecotone, this month—and thrilled, too, about publishing our newest issue, the Body Issue.

So many in North Carolina and elsewhere suffered far more serious losses—of homes and livelihoods, of access to safe drinking water and mold-free living spaces. Thirty-seven people in North Carolina lost their lives to Florence. Rivers flooded to record-setting heights, and as the waters, polluted with hog waste and coal ash, receded, they left dead fish along I-40, millions of dollars of damage in their wake, and uncertainties about the health of the river and surrounding ecosystems.

We know we’re just one of many places to have seen severe weather of late. On October 10 of this year, Hurricane Michael crashed into the Florida Panhandle as a powerful Category 4, the first storm of this magnitude to hit the region. Last year, Hurricane Irma tore through the Caribbean, followed by Maria two weeks later. In Puerto Rico, nearly three thousand people lost their lives. Over a year later, thousands of Puerto Ricans are still without adequate shelter or reliable power. Another of the most severely affected places was the nation of Antigua and Barbuda; the entire island of Barbuda was evacuated, and 90 per cent of homes and buildings there were damaged.

Here in Wilmington, nearly three months after Florence, and two months after UNCW reopened, many families are recovering. But people are still displaced, some living in tents or trailers, while others still haven’t been able to secure work. As is often the case with disasters like a hurricane, the folks who are most at risk—due to poverty, race-based inequities, and other factors—continue to suffer disproportionately in the aftermath. Trauma isn’t always visible. It affects individuals, families, human communities, and ecosystems—and it lasts long after a storm has disappeared from the news cycle.

If you’d like to help those who were in the path of Hurricane Florence and other recent storms, here are some organizations to consider:

Blueprint focuses on recovery efforts and longer-term policy changes that will benefit Eastern North Carolina’s most at-risk communities, including ones affected by Hurricanes Matthew and Florence.

Cape Fear River Watch aims to protect and improve the water quality of the Lower Cape Fear River Basin through education, advocacy, and action. This includes work on water quality–related issues such as industrial pollution, concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), and fish restoration in the Cape Fear River. 

Floridians are still recovering from Hurricane Michael, which curtailed access to health care for many. Americares provides emergency medicine, supplies, and other humanitarian aid.

In the wake of natural disasters, waterborne illnesses can spread very quickly.  In many cases, deaths from cholera, typhoid, dysentery and the like can surpass that of the disaster itself by orders of magnitude.The Caribbean Clean Water Hurricane Relief Program worked to ensure that residents of Antigua and Barbuda had clean water after Hurricane Irma, including by providing water filters.

The American Federation of Teachers, in collaboration with First Book, provides books and educational resources to children in Puerto Rico affected by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Donations help provide basics like clothing and toothbrushes as well, to help kids’ lives get back to normal.

The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) is a regional agency for mobilizing disaster relief and policy change among eighteen Caribbean nations. Membership includes Anguilla, which was hit particularly hard by Hurricane Irma last year.

The Humane Society’s Emergency Animal Rescue Fund helps in preparation for and the aftermath of large-scale disasters. They evacuated 1,300 animals from shelters in the path of Hurricanes Florence and Michael, and rescued over one hundred fifty farm animals, pets, and strays from the field this hurricane season.

This post was compiled by Ecotone managing editor Rachel Taube.