The communities hit the hardest by North Carolina’s devastating floods are also among its poorest


As people across the southeast United States contend with the damage left by Hurricane Matthew, communities of low-income people and people of color are feeling the pain disproportionately.

In North Carolina, residents of low-income towns in areas including Robeson, Edgecombe, and Moore counties are struggling in the wake of the storm, The Washington Post reports.

The state’s overall poverty levels place it 39th in the country–16.4% of all North Carolinians live below the poverty line, according to U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 estimate. In some parts of the counties hit by Hurricane Matthew, up to 31% of residents lived below the poverty line before the storm. Now, as they deal with the destruction of their homes and loss of income, the storm could have a serious impact on their long-term livelihoods—rebuilding homes or finding new ones, paying medical bills, and recovering from missing days or even weeks of work will be an uphill battle for those with lower incomes. Close to a third (29.8%) of Native American people, 27.1% of black people, and 34.2% of Latinxs in North Carolina fall into that category, according to 2012 census data.

Robeson County is one example of a part of the state where the disaster has taken a toll on communities of color: the area’s residents are 39.9% Native American or Alaskan native; 24.4% are black; and 33.1% of residents live in poverty. The average annual income of Robeson County residents from 2010–2014 was $15,460–just above the $11,945 poverty line for individuals in North Carolina.

“When a flood like this hits, the pain of it is exacerbated by the poverty,” the Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, told the Post. “What we’re talking about, particularly in eastern Carolina, are some of the poorest communities in the country — black and white, who already had economic challenges before something like this.”

Jordan “Forge” Chavis, a 34-year-old Native American DJ from Pembroke, a town in Robeson County, began to document the situation and its impact on his community on Twitter:

Many of these counties have not seen the last of dangerous conditions. With rainfall predicted this week, at least two bodies of water–the Neuse River in Kinston and the Tar River in Tarboro–are expected to rise to record levels this week, threatening nearby towns with even more flooding.

With nearly half of North Carolina’s counties in a state of emergency, relief services run by state agencies and local and national nonprofits are providing, shelter, food, and clothing to those affected by the flooding. The Red Cross currently has 72 shelters in operation throughout the state, housing upward of 1,800 people. State officials say they have 52 shelters holding more than 4,300 residents. Makeshift shelters have been set up at local schools throughout the affected areas.

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory urged people in evacuation zones to leave their homes. “We’ve had too many deaths. Get out!,” he said Wednesday. “Once that water flows it’s too late.”