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Health department hosts safety fair

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Lt. Christian Capizzi with Greenville Fire/Rescue gives out plastic fire hats and badges during the Pitt County Preparedness and Safety Fair at Lowe's Home Improvement on Sept. 14, 2019.

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By Morgan Banville
Special to the Reflector

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Two decades ago, eastern North Carolina played host to an unwelcome guest.

Monday marks the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Floyd, a storm that lashed the region with winds up to 75 mph and dumped 15 inches of rain into already-saturated waterways.

The hurricane and subsequent flooding killed a total of six people in Pitt County — and taught local officials officials a grim lesson about the importance being prepared.

Coinciding with this anniversary is National Preparedness Month, sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. During September, communities are promoting awareness of the importance of disaster preparedness.

The Pitt County Health Department, along with many other community partners, promoted FEMA’s 2019 National Preparedness Month theme, “Prepared, Not Scared” during Pitt County’s Second Annual Preparedness and Safety Fair on Saturday at the east Greenville Lowe’s Home Improvement.

Community members were invited to attend and learn information on safety, consult with first responders and other professionals, view equipment used in emergency situations and obtain helpful resources for preparing their families for emergencies.

“Past storms, especially Hurricane Floyd and its massive flooding, have taught us that we can never become too content when it comes to preparedness,” said Amy Hattem, public information officer with the health department. “Today’s fair serves as a reminder to the community to always be ready.”

As the community and neighboring counties continue to feel the lingering financial and emotional effects of Hurricane Florence and most recently Hurricane Dorian, the health department reminded residents of the ongoing need for preparedness and safety in homes, schools, businesses and communities.

“We are now at the height of hurricane season and the tropics are still very active," said Kathy Sheppard, preparedness coordinator. "We should not let our guard down following the recent hurricane."

Sheppard’s hope is to provide the public with safety information and tips. Ironically, this event has been held post-hurricane for both years of its existence.

“It’s important to be prepared every day, not just for hurricanes,” said Sheppard.

Many of the groups that assist after a disaster were present at the fair, such as the Pitt County Sheriff's Department and the Greenville Fire-Rescue team.

“This is great for people to gather information to take with them,” Sheppard said.

Noting the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Floyd, Sheppard said that for future hurricanes, it’s important not to focus on the category or where the eye of the storm hits.

“The damage can be widespread. We had an unexpected level of flooding (with Floyd),” Sheppard said. “The flooding can come with the back-end of the storm. It’s important to stay informed and up to date.”

People often don’t think about what they are eating in relation to preparedness, Environmental Health Specialist Elizabeth Gates said.

“In times of disaster, it is important to be mindful of food safety,” said Gates. “You don’t want a foodborne illness on top of everything else. The No. 1 way to prevent this is hand washing.”

Michael Brown, a volunteer of the Red Cross for 20 years and a member of the Humane Society of Eastern N.C., reminded people that it is important to prepare a kit not just for themselves, but also for their pets.

“Think about a plan. What will you do if you have to evacuate?” Brown said. “Don’t just leave your pet. We have a list of pet-friendly hotels and shelters. The closest one is near the farmer’s market.”

Hurricane Floyd was Brown's first flood and the reason he began to volunteer with the Red Cross.

“People have no idea how destructive flooding is: how nasty it smells and how it makes everything dirty,” Brown said. “There’s a long clean-up process, but the community really pulls together and there are lots of agencies and volunteers. It’s impressive to see.”

Patrice Boone and Melissa Miller, who attended the safety fair, discussed the effects of Hurricane Floyd, remembering water up to their knees.

“We didn’t have electricity for a while with Floyd,” Boone said. “I was young, and I remember thinking ‘Did we get enough water?’ The grill ended up being a source of making food. What was once viewed as recreational, became a necessity.”

Though Boone’s home wasn’t affected by the flooding, she remembered feeling scared watching the water rise in other nearby neighborhoods.

“Some neighborhoods were completely vacant after the storm,” she said. “Everyone had totally relocated.”

Miller believes that most of those people relocating were people who thought, “I can’t do this again.”

“It’s the fear that overcomes you,” Miller said. “It’s good to be prepared but sometimes after surviving flooding and catastrophe associated with it, such as losing your job because some places couldn’t rebuild, it just isn’t worth risking everything to ride out another disaster.”

The most common disasters, according to Brown, are house fires. The Red Cross responds to the most immediate needs of displaced families, such providing them with vouchers for a hotel or food.

Liz McDowell, program director of the Catholic Charities of the Diocese in Raleigh, said that the main goal of her nonprofit is to provide disaster response after the Red Cross and emergency services tend to people.

“Our main focus is navigating FEMA and rebuilding, while also assisting those such as renters who don’t receive enough assistance to cover their rent for the month,” McDowell said. “We’re Catholic, but we serve everyone and anyone. We embody faith and acceptance and really strive to be welcoming and inclusive.”

Donations such as non-perishable food and clothing are always welcome since the charity provides assistance to more than 19,000 families.

“The community really pulls together as far as assisting with the needs of people affected,” McDowell said. “Floyd, as well as Florence, serve as a reminder to be prepared and keep connected.

"Even if this fair assists one family with going home and building their safety preparedness kit, it’ll be a few less people that need emergency response," she said.

Don't forget to teach children about safety, said Terry Quinn, childcare health consultant.

“We want to communicate with parents on how to teach their children about being prepared,” said Quinn. “It’s important they realize how their own children view safety and security.”

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