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Hurricane Florence evacuees with disabilities endured unsafe, 'disrespectful' conditions, report says

Lynn Bonner, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) on

Published in Weather News

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The state set up a special medical shelter in an old building during Hurricane Florence in a section of Goldsboro, N.C., at risk for flooding, a new report says.

In Winston-Salem, people who were unable to climb stairs were marooned on the first floor of the Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum, separated by steep stairs from the only bathrooms open to evacuees, according to the report released Tuesday by Disability Rights North Carolina.

The service elevator at the coliseum was unavailable for long stretches, so some evacuees had to wear adult diapers, the report says.

Disability Rights' report on how the state, FEMA, and Red Cross staff and volunteers treated people with disabilities seeking shelter during Hurricane Florence said that overall, emergency help for people with disabilities has improved since 2016, when rain from Hurricane Matthew flooded eastern counties.

After Hurricane Matthew, the state hired a disability integration specialist who works on emergency preparations and responses.

But there's more to do, the report said.

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"We need to make sure the concerns that we witnessed monitoring the shelters get placed at the forefront," Iris Green, a senior attorney at Disability Rights, said in an interview. People with disabilities should be involved in disaster planning, she said.

The federally mandated protection and advocacy organization visited 26 shelters over 47 days, and talked to more than 300 evacuees and more than 150 shelter staff and other providers, according to the report.

Keith Acree, a spokesman at the state Department of Public Safety, said NC Emergency Management agrees with the assessment that the old state psychiatric hospital in Goldsboro and Joel Coliseum in Winston-Salem did not make good shelters.

"We probably wouldn't return to those in the future," Acree said by telephone. "We'd look elsewhere. You do what you have to do in an emergency."

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