FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (WTVD) -- The good news is that there is a lot of good news to report.
Now two years after Hurricane Florence, hundreds of thousands of residents are back in their homes, and tens of thousands of small businesses are either up and running or almost there, and it's all happened despite months of political wrangling that had nothing to do with the hurricane or North Carolina.
"The past year and a half has been so busy that it has flown by, but I know it doesn't feel that way to hurricane survivors," Laura Hogshead, COO of the North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resilience (NCORR), told ABC11. "We are working as fast as we can but we know it's never fast enough."
Hurricane Florence made landfall just south of Wrightsville Beach on Sept. 14, 2018. The Category 1 storm then inflicted an estimated $17 billion worth of damage - about two thirds of North Carolina's state budget for the last fiscal year.
The cost was overwhelming, and historically, the total price tag for severe weather is almost never paid back in full, or even close. Still, between private insurance and public investment, significant funds poured into ravaged communities and jumpstarted many families as they rebuild and restore their lives and livelihoods.
Last year, an ABC11 I-Team analysis found roughly $7 billion either distributed, approved or obligated, and an additional pot of up to $1 billion on hold. Now two years later, much of the remaining funds, including $542 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, are at least now accessible to applicants for the first time.
"We have about 75 staff at NCORR now and 200 contractors that work with us that are establishing and implementing these programs every day," Hogshead said. "That's something that didn't exist two years ago. We had not had a storm like Matthew and Florence back to back for such a long time that there just wasn't that infrastructure for spending the HUD money in particular and we've certainly built that."
The HUD money, known formally as Community Development Block Grants-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR), is billed as "funds of last resort" because they are the last pot of cash after FEMA, private insurance, small business loans and other relief.
The application process opened in June and will remain open until the end of the year.
"It is local communities that need more affordable housing, it's for folks who are looking to be bought out, homeowners rebuilding," Hogshead said. "And we are working with housing finance agencies to locate new housing in areas where we are doing buyouts so folks can stay in their communities."
Among those looking for extra help are Chauncey and Sharon Payne, a Fayetteville couple ABC11 has followed since Florence ravaged their home.
"You don't want to remember, but every time it rains you can't help but remember," Chauncey said as he marks the anniversary of Florence's landfall. "I can't take another one. It would take me right out of North Carolina."
Governor Roy Cooper on Monday also marked the anniversary, echoing Hogshead and other officials to promote the CDBG-DR grants and the Homeowner Recovery Program, which assists homeowners with repairs, reconstruction and/or elevation of storm-damaged homes.
"We are committed to helping people rebuild their lives in areas hit hard by multiple storms in recent years," Cooper said. "We have made significant progress on recovery, but the increasing number and intensity of storms shows the importance of building back smarter and stronger."
Homeowners who sustained damages due to Hurricane Florence, Hurricane Matthew, or both storms can apply online for the ReBuild NC Homeowner Recovery Program or call 833-ASK-RBNC for more information.