North Carolina Remains Resilient After Hurricane

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek September 21, 2018
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A gas station roof that was destroyed in Raeford, N.C., during Hurricane Florence.

A gas station roof that was destroyed in Raeford, N.C., during Hurricane Florence.


This story was updated Oct. 1, 2018 to include information that the North Carolina State Council voted to designate the World Central Kitchen as the recipient of Hurricane Florence relief efforts.

 The grim effects of Hurricane Florence linger in parts of North Carolina after the storm made landfall at Wrightsville Beach last week.

While those in the western part of the state were spared Florence's wrath, the coastal area was ravaged. A record 105-mph wind guest was measured at the Wilmington, N.C., airport—the fastest since Hurricane Helene hit the state in 1958, CNN reported. Later that day, a 68 mph wind guest was measured in Wrightsville Beach.

Some of the HR professionals in areas bearing the brunt of the storm are members of the Lower Cape Fear Human Resource Association (LCFHRA) in Wilmington, just 12 miles inland from Wrightsville Beach. The SHRM chapter has a little more than 200 members, most of whom live and work in New Hanover County. 

More than 25 inches of rain flooded Wilmington, cutting it off from the rest of the state. More than 100 roads were closed, and more than 488,500 customers lost power.

Businesses are struggling because many of their employees evacuated the area just before the hurricane, said Larry S. Valenti, SHRM-SCP.  He is president of the North Carolina state council, which oversees 19 Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) chapters. He also serves as lead HR analyst at Duke Energy in Charlotte.

On Sept. 10, Gov. Roy Cooper ordered mandatory evacuations for all of the state's barrier islands, which includes Wilmington-area beaches. 

"Because so many people evacuated the Wilmington area ahead of the storm—and because flooding has made it very difficult for them to return to the city—most employers are operating on severely reduced staffing levels," Valenti said. At some businesses, only 15 percent to 20 percent of the workforce is available. 

"It depends on the area … some areas of town were less affected. While some companies are opening, it may be middle of next week before most are open," he said.

Florence was a Category 1 hurricane when it touched down Sept. 13, wreaking havoc across the state, where it was responsible for 27 deaths before moving northward. None of those injured or killed were LCFHRA members or their family members, Valenti said. 

The chapter also operates a SHRM member service area (MSA) in Jacksonville, N.C.—52 miles north of Wilmington—for HR professionals who live and work in Onslow County. A MSA is a satellite chapter located in the geographic hub of another chapter. There were no reports of injuries or deaths among those members or their families.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Managing Through Emergency and Disaster]

Cooper warned earlier in the week that the flooding "is far from over and will get worse in places" and asked the 100,000 evacuees not to return yet, the Associated Press reported.

Duke Energy cannot send linemen to restore power until the water recedes.

"I've heard that it may be early to middle of next week before we get all the power turned back on," Valenti said. Internet and phone communication in Wilmington "was still very spotty" on Sept. 19, and other areas around the state also are experiencing that. 

'In Constant Contact' 

"Essentially, everybody in [LCFHRA] is affected in one way, shape or form" by Florence, Valenti said. Most members serve in HR departments of one or two people.

Those HR professionals, he said, "are in constant contact with operational people to see what needs to be done to get back online and to see how to best help employees" with money or time off. They also are checking on employees and executing emergency plans with an eye toward business continuity.

"The Wilmington-area employers and workforce are resilient," Valenti said, "and determined to return to normalcy as soon as possible."

Some Wilmington employers are paying workers for their regularly scheduled hours even when they are unable to report to work, Valenti said. One employer secured a food truck to provide hot meals for those who can get to the worksite but don't have power at home.

Donations 

Monetary donations can be made through SHRM's North Carolina state council. North Carolina state council members voted unanimously Sept. 24 to designate contributions to the World Central Kitchen, according to Valenti.

"This organization has gained worldwide acclaim for providing disaster relief meals in Puerto Rico, and has already served over 250,000 meals for Hurricane Florence victims and disaster relief teams," Valenti said. HR Florida, North Carolina's sister state council, already has made a generous contribution, Valenti said.

Contributions to the NCSHRM Hurricane Florence Relief Fund are not tax-deductible.

The NC Coastal SHRM chapter in Greenville is organizing a food and clothing drive for those most affected by the storm. Donations may be made by contacting Vickie.williford@vidanthealth.com

Plans are still on for the North Carolina SHRM State Conference to be held Sept. 24-26 in Pinehurst, 136 miles northwest of Wilmington. Cash and gift cards will be accepted at the NCSHRM booth for relief efforts; donations will go directly to the NC Coastal SHRM or LCFHRA chapters for direct distribution to affected chapter members, Valenti said.

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