US: 'America, we need your help:' US community slammed by Dorian pleads for declaration of a major disaster

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Nearly a month after Hurricane Dorian tracked over the Outer Banks of North Carolina, cutting off Ocracoke Island, the destruction to the island has not been declared a federal disaster.

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A pre-hurricane emergency declaration was issued and approved before Dorian hit the island, but that remains the only request signed by President Donald Trump as of Oct. 1. To date, two other requests for aid from FEMA remain under review for areas across North Carolina damaged by the hurricane.

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"Neighbors help neighbors, and newcomers who stay live by the motto of the native Ocracokers: We don't ask for help, we give help. But that has changed. America, we need your help," Orcacoke Island resident Kelley Shinn wrote in an Op-Ed for The New York Times. Shinn, a writer who has lived on Orcacoke since she was 17, made note of islanders' motto: "We don't ask for help, we give help."

But in the wake of Dorian, she pointed out, "that has changed."

Ocracoke Island experienced a rapid spike in the water level as the storm surge piled up off the Pamlico Sound on Friday, Sept. 6. The water level on the sound jumped more than 6 feet in less than two hours that morning, prompting a flash flood emergency.

The rising waters not only inundated the community but stranded hundreds of people on the island. First responders airlifted some of the islanders out of the area. On Sept. 9, residents began to trickle back onto the island to try to piece back together what the hurricane had destroyed.

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Three weeks after the storm, wooden plaques mark the height of the storm surges from past hurricanes on the side of a local gift shop. Earl, Gustav and Sandy are a few notable names that sit at the lower half. Above them include notorious storms like Hurricane Gloria from 1985 and Matthew from 2016. Dorian's name occupies a space 27 inches above Matthew.

"It is a miracle, that unlike our friends in the Bahamas, no one here died," Shinn wrote.

However, she continued that the daycare center is closed due to septic issues. The historic library and the island's only bank also remain closed. The island's only school is reopening this week. Although students will be returning to the classroom, classes will begin in new locations, Hyde County School District Public Information Officer Julio Morales told the local news outlet The Outer Banks Voice.

"Instead of surge, our island is now inundated with relief workers," Shinn wrote. She calls some of the help that comes to the island, "Good Samaritan crews."

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Despite help pouring in from good Samaritans, hundreds of Ocracokers remain displaced and debris sits in homes with nowhere to go, according to Shinn. Due to the disaster at the island not having been declared a federal disaster, residents haven't received assistance from FEMA.

On Sept. 9, the North Carolina Office of the Governor announced that North Carolina Emergency Management had requested the assistance from FEMA in conducting a joint preliminary damage assessment, which began within the week.

Four days later, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper requested that President Trump make a major disaster declaration for North Carolina based on the level of damage and destruction that Dorian had brought. In addition, he asked Trump to issue a major disaster declaration for FEMA Public Assistance for 13 counties, including Hyde County, where Ocracoke Island is located.

In his letter, Cooper outlined that the preliminary storm surge estimates showed the greatest surge in North Carolina occurred along the sound side of the Outer Banks, with a four-foot to six-foot storm surge. He also noted the most severe storm surge occurred on Ocracoke Island with four to seven feet of storm surge.

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As of Oct. 1, the request has not yet been approved, despite Cooper's note in the statement that the Public Assistance threshold requirements that qualify them for a disaster declaration had been met.

On Sept. 21, the governor made an additional request, asking the president to designate individual assistance for four counties, including Hyde County, and Public Assistance for Jones County.

As of Oct. 1, this request also has not yet been approved.

On Sept. 21, newly sworn-in U.S. Rep. Greg Murphy, a Republican from North Carolina, and North Carolina Republican Sen. Bob Steinburg mistakenly announced that the president had signed the request to declare a major disaster declaration, according to Shinn.

Cooper visited the island two days later to clarify in person that the papers had not yet been signed and to listen to the stories of islanders' experiences with Dorian.

"While it might seem from a distance that the storm has passed, we are all as shellshocked as we were on Day 1," Shinn wrote.

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