It has been 10 days since Hurricane Florence hit the Carolina coast, but the storm is still with us. This morning’s news reported that the Cape Fear River is finally expected to crest today – at a record high – and remain at flood levels for days. Parts of Interstate 40 are still under water and hundreds of smaller roads will remain impassable for weeks to come. Over 10,000 people are still in evacuation shelters, and service providers across the state continue to collect and deliver supplies to those forced from their homes. FEMA has been able to open just two Disaster Recovery Centers in affected areas, where residents can go to begin putting their lives back together, but hopes to open several additional centers across the storm-ravaged southeastern NC counties as the flood waters recede and give access.
As the rain continued to fall and the winds continued to blow during the storm, the North Carolina Bar Association launched a Hurricane Florence website in order to provide assistance to those affected. The NCBA Young Lawyers Division opened a Disaster Legal Services (DLS) Hotline to begin taking calls from affected residents seeking legal advice and assistance with replacing lost documents, tenant rights in the case of disaster, filing FEMA and insurance claims, and questions about school enrollment, government benefits, wage protection, and other losses. In coordination with Legal Aid of North Carolina (LANC), each DLS hotline caller is paired with a willing pro bono volunteer to assist them with their questions and needs. In addition, the NC Free Legal Answers program, launched just about a year ago, recently widened its income eligibility requirements in order to allow those affected by the storm to submit questions to be answered by pro bono attorneys via the program’s online portal,http://nc.freelegalanswers.org.
In less than a week’s time, over 175 lawyers have signed up to serve as Disaster Legal Services volunteers and many of those already have provided critical assistance to disaster-affected NC residents. A pro bono volunteer resource page on the Hurricane Florence website includes many resources that were generously shared from other disaster-affected states, including Texas and Florida, and we are grateful for the support and guidance. Thank you especially to Hannah Allison, Pro Bono Program Administrator at the Texas State Bar, who has generously shared resources – including disaster-related volunteer materials, guides, and programming advice – gained from Texas’s experience responding to Hurricane Harvey.
In the coming weeks, the NCBA will partner with LANC and the NC Pro Bono Resource Center to establish in-person pro bono service clinics at the FEMA Disaster Recovery Centers, as an extension of the Disaster Legal Services Hotline project. This will be a long-term undertaking, as we know that the legal needs of disaster victims will continue to develop over the coming months, and even years. Some NC victims of Hurricane Matthew, which hit these same communities two years ago, are still working through FEMA and insurance claims and trying to recover from contractor repair scams, lost housing and lost employment. The storms are still with us.
Thank you to everyone who has called to offer support and good thoughts – we are grateful for everything that you have done to help North Carolina withstand this storm. All of our Disaster Legal Services efforts are supported by the North Carolina Bar Foundation and its NC Disaster Legal Services Fund, and we are grateful for your support.
Kim Bar Mullikin
Senior Director, NC Bar Foundation
Pro Bono Staff Attorney, NC Bar Foundation