As hurricane season approaches, state and local officials are repeating a familiar refrain: Be prepared.
But according to a report released by a risk management and insurance company, leaders in the state are not doing all they could to mitigate risks. Among its recommendations are discouraging construction is “highly exposed” areas, curbing pollution risks and building more flood-resistant roads.
The report, issued by Zurich North America, Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance and ISET-International, says climate has visibly changed, sea levels have visibly risen and these trends are likely to continue.
“Despite the double hit of Matthew and then Florence, along with an extremely active though not directly damaging to North Carolina hurricane season in 2017, people and businesses are missing an opportunity to improve their resilience,” said Paul Lavelle, chief claims officer of Zurich North America. “The trends are clear — natural hazards are getting worse. Now is a key window of opportunity with the recovery still ongoing in many communities to take action and reduce future risk.”
As acute weather events become more common, delaying action will damage reputations and affect profits, the report says.
“In the face of this increasing risk, it is critical to learn from events such as Florence, to minimize the damages and streamline the response and recovery for the next storm,” Lavelle said. “Communities can no longer afford business as usual, quite literally. The growing economic and human cost of these events requires that we not only change how we respond, but also do so far more quickly than we have in the past.”
The report took a detailed look at the damage done by Hurricane Florence, which made landfall in the state in September 2018.
More than 40 deaths in North Carolina were attributed to Florence. The state estimated that the storm caused nearly $17 billion in damage. Flooding and downed trees closed about 1,600 state roads, including sections of Interstate 95 and Interstate 40.
“Across the United States, transportation routes not built for the kinds of storms that are now occurring are increasingly flooding during storms,” the report states. “The roads are not built high enough or with enough space for water to flow around and under them.”
Coastal counties, Charlotte, and the Triangle area saw an increase in the population in the floodplain from 2000-16. That, coupled with the increase in hurricane intensity, means that without change in awareness, preparedness and risk reduction, the social and economic effects of major natural hazard events will continue to increase, the reports states.
Policy and regulatory decisions that fail to discourage development in highly exposed areas are resulting in increased flood risk throughout the state. The report calls on developments to be more intentional about where to build, how to build, and in managing expectations for how communities will live within and interact with the environment to stay safe.
The report also says that the state is not moving quickly enough to curb pollution risks from flooded hog lagoons, poultry farms, and coal ash pits.
Floods continue to have a devastating effect on vulnerable communities, the report states. For example, many hard-hit properties in Wilmington were inexpensive apartments in low-lying parts of town. In the hot, humid aftermath of the storm, water-damaged properties rapidly started to mold and landlords began issuing lease termination notices, sparking an unexpected wave of sheltering demands a week to 10 days after the storm.
“As floods events become more intense and more frequent, we need to be more proactive,” said Karen MacClune, executive director of ISET-International. “Yet our resources remain finite. This means we need to more effectively use the resources we have.”