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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Richard H. Moore, August 2, 2002. Interview K-0598. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Impact of Hurricane Floyd on housing and demographic patterns

Moore focuses on the impact Hurricane Floyd had on housing in North Carolina. First describing the physical damage done to housing, Moore explains how state government, with federal aid, responded to displaced people. In particular, he describes the immediate formation of a FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) trailer park between Rocky Mount and Tarboro. In addition, Moore addresses the how one consequence of the hurricane was that some impoverished people who were in inadequate housing to begin with had a chance for better conditions. Finally, he explains that it is unlikely that the true impact of the hurricane on demographic migration will ever be known.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Richard H. Moore, August 2, 2002. Interview K-0598. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

LEDA HARTMAN:
Well, we do, too. The impact of the flood on housing. What was that, given that people say that there already was a shortage of affordable and/or decent housing in eastern North Carolina? What was the impact of the flood, and what are the different ways that the government responded?
RICHARD MOORE:
Well, Floyd knocked out housing stock in an unprecedented manner. I can't remember the number of thousands of homes for some reason.
LEDA HARTMAN:
Sixty-seven thousand jumps out at me.
RICHARD MOORE:
That's what I was going to say, it's in excess of fifty-thousand, and it seems to me about twenty thousand of those were rendered uninhabitable. It really showed the difference. It was another one of those lessons learned, it showed the difference between wind driven damage and flooding. Wind driven damage does a lot of cosmetic damage. Sometimes it can do structural damage. Usually your grandmother's afghan, and your wedding pictures, and wedding video, they're usually okay. Flooding is so destructive, particularly with modern insulation, the way rolled insulation acts as a wick in a wall. All you have to do is get a few inches of water in your home. It acts very much as an old lantern wick. It wicks it up through the insulation up into the attic of the home, and then mold takes over. It's a complete and total disaster. Floyd knocked out so much housing stock that I remember one of the first decisions we madeߞas a matter of fact, about two days later because we had our first park open for housing within five days which is really pretty incredible if you thing about that.
LEDA HARTMAN:
FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] trailer park?
RICHARD MOORE:
Our first FEMA trailer park. I think on the third day I pulled the trigger, and Eric started buying every camper trailer he could find. Then we had them hooked up with water and sewer within two more days after that. Really, that's pretty incredible.
LEDA HARTMAN:
Where was the first one?
RICHARD MOORE:
It was at the Fountain Industrial Park between Rocky Mount and Tarboro. The reason we put it there was because they had water and sewer already to the site, and we could line them up. But we literally ran back hoes twenty-four hours a day, brought in gravel, built the roads. As I said, we raided the market in camper trailers. So government went in the housing business. It's not something that government's equipped to do. I don't know that we did such a good job. I think you can see today that there are probably things we should have handled differently, but it's really not something we were equipped to do. I would rather have ventured in on the experiments that we did than sit back and say, "No, we can't help you. That's not what we do." The silver lining in it though is that a lot of the housing stock that was wiped out was really breeding grounds for generational abject poverty. Some of the places I went took me back to the homes I used to visit when I was a child with my parents to deliver a Christmas or a Thanksgiving turkey. It's places that if there is a silver lining, really nobody should have been living in those. Now the challenge is to replace them with affordable, quality, decent housing, and we're making some progress.
LEDA HARTMAN:
What's been done so far? What remains to be done as you see it in terms of the buyouts, the rental assistance, all of that stuff?
RICHARD MOORE:
Well, the buyout was a program that we pushed really hard to get the money for.
LEDA HARTMAN:
And that's Federal money?
RICHARD MOORE:
And that's Federal money.
LEDA HARTMAN:
Okay.
RICHARD MOORE:
Once again, we'd had a lot of experience in that. We'd gotten a lot of buyouts in the town of Belhaven in previous storms. We'd piloted the program on elevating homes. Instead of buying them out we jacked them up on foundations, and it was cheaper for everybody, and the homes were fine.
LEDA HARTMAN:
And nobody had to go.
RICHARD MOORE:
I visited some of those homes that we had raised in Belhaven after subsequent floods, and they're in great shape. They're up. They're going to be fine. So we had the buyout program going. I guess over all it's mixed reviews, but clearly everything we bought is going to be a long-term benefit to tax payers. It's not fair for someone who owns that home who plays by the rules, and all of the sudden they're left with the biggest asset in their life that no one's going to buy. Once you know that something is a repeated flood victim, your sixty, seventy, eighty, hundred and fifty thousand dollar home is rendered worthless. I'm glad to live in a society that we can all pitch in and try alleviate those type things. The communities that we tried to build from scratch, where we gave developers incentives, and we tried to force people to live in a particular area, I think we've learned some lessons on human nature. Our society doesn't take very well to being told where to live.
LEDA HARTMAN:
Where did that happen?
RICHARD MOORE:
It happened in a lot of places. I know that it's happened outside of Tarboro. It's happened outside of Grifton and in Grifton. There have been several examples of where there are developers out there who tried to do the right thing, and the state said, "At least fifty percent of the people who live there have got to be flood victims." We found out that that kind of social engineering just doesn't work very well, but we tried.
LEDA HARTMAN:
What happened in those cases? I would imagine that the shortage would be so great that people really wouldn't care. You know, are you a flood victim? They would really just take the opportunity to live in a new place.
RICHARD MOORE:
You ask a great question. We don't know. We don't know where they went. We suspect a lot of people either left, moved in with family. I think that one of the things that we'll never be able to track from a census standpoint is just how many people left these communities. We've had a slow migration my entire life of people leaving small towns in eastern North Carolina, going to Raleigh, Durham, Charlotte, Richmond, Atlanta. Who knows how much this accelerates it?