Gov. Cooper has few answers for victims of recent river flooding

Residents whose homes were damaged by Catawba River flooding asked Gov. Roy Cooper on Tuesday whether Duke Energy was at fault for releasing too much water from an upstream dam after a June 9 storm.

But Cooper had few answers, saying he didn’t have enough information to draw conclusions about what happened.

“I knew this area was flooded. I didn’t know much about it,” he said. “But I’ve certainly heard from local citizens who live here. There is clearly a lot of frustration and despair.”

Duke Energy opened its Lake Norman floodgates after 11 inches of rainfall on June 9, raising the Catawba River levels quickly and flooding over 100 homes in the area, many along Riverside Drive. It was the most water released in the dam’s 56-year history.

Duke has defended opening the gates, saying that it had to act after more rain fell in a day than the dam was prepared for. The company notified the county, which sent emergency services to knock on doors and warned residents about floods but not about the dam release.

Cooper said that when he heard about the flooding several weeks ago, he wanted to come and see the area for himself. Farther down the street from the properties he visited, fiberglass insulation and gutted wood is still piled in residents’ yards.

Governor Roy Cooper shook hands with residents and firefighters in the area devastated by rising Catawba River floodwaters last month. Sarah Skinner

Three weeks after the disaster, Cooper officially named the flood a state emergency, a move that local officials said in the aftermath that they weren’t sure would come. The declaration means that residents can apply for grant aid outside of the federal small business loan program, including people who don’t meet the SBA qualifications.

Last week, county commissioners voted to open up a “quick buy” program for homeowners who wanted to cut their losses and sell. The buyout model is a county program, and the land will be cleared and left open as green space to avoid future flood damage.

Owners who choose to sell would be reimbursed for money they’ve already spent cleaning up their homes.

Cooper said that the SBA had received around 80 applications for aid. But some residents seemed frustrated by their options.

“We all know they want to make a park out of this,” one resident said, suggesting that the county is more interested in ending the need to deal with flooded homes than helping residents recover.

Almost every house was marked with reflective yellow tape at the level reached by floodwaters. Many strips were above garage doors or halfway up windows.

Residents gathered for the governor’s visit, coming out of their homes or by truck or golf cart from further down the street. One man brought a printout sheet of data on Duke Energy water levels in the last 13 months, which he showed the governor.

Cooper thanked the residents for sharing their frustrations with Duke Energy, but didn’t address whether his office was investigating what happened. When asked during a news conference about the energy company’s role, he said he didn’t have all of the facts.

Residents were more sure about who they thought was to blame.

“Duke,” homeowner Missy Hubbard said, “I want to see a timeline for when (Duke) decided it’s ok to let that amount of water out of Lake Norman. ”

Hubbard’s home, which was raised since it was flooded in the 2004, was largely spared, but she had water in her garage and her power was down for days. She said she regularly checks floodgate levels for her peace of mind.

“We need to coexist so we’re not victims again,” Hubbard said.