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Opinion | Message From a Proud Island: ‘We Need Your Help’

I discovered that on Friday the 13th, one week after the storm, Gov. Roy Cooper’s office delivered a request for a declaration of disaster for public assistance and infrastructure to the White House. Representatives from Senator Thom Tillis’s office assured me that the senator urged the president to sign it that day. On Saturday, Sept. 21, eight days after the request was sent to the president, our newly sworn-in congressman, Greg Murphy, came to the island and announced that President Trump had just signed the FEMA declaration. Our state senator, Bob Steinburg, posted on his social media accounts that same hour that the president had signed the document. Those social media posts have now been deleted.
On that same day, Governor Cooper followed up the request for the Public Assistance Program for infrastructure recovery with a request to the White House for assistance with individuals and families. Two days later, he came for his second visit to the island since Dorian. His first visit was the day after the storm. The governor sat on the porch of my home for 45 minutes, listening to the stories of native island matriarchs. He brought with him the state secretaries of health and human services, environmental quality, public safety, the emergency management director, the chief officer of the Department of Transportation and the brigadier general of the National Guard, all of whom toured my home, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, and had almost three feet of water inside. Under a mulberry tree, the governor told me that the news from Senator Steinburg and Congressman Murphy was untrue. The declarations of disaster had not been signed by the president.
Five days after the storm, I remembered the beach. I wear neoprene sleeves when I swim, to hold on my prosthetic legs, but the day before another amputee on the island had lost his sleeve to the flood and I gave him one of mine. The ocean was calm, and so I took the chance. I swam for half an hour, but coming up out of the sand ledge, a wave knocked me over and sucked my prosthetic leg off. Friends combed the beach until sundown without luck. Our local newspaper put it out on social media that if anyone spotted my leg to please return it to the FireMart. My leg washed up on the beach the next day, discovered by my favorite bartender. For the last few days, my leg has been the butt, so to speak, of the joke for my community, giving them something to laugh at, something to distract them from the purgatory in which we are now living. Ocracokers know that humor is the helpmate of hope. The story of my leg is also giving us hope. The sea taketh and the sea giveth back.
I am a proud resident of Ocracoke Island, North Carolina, United States of America. I do not believe in divisiveness. Most survivors of disasters will tell you that there is no better teacher of equality. And while Ocracoke is strong and proud, and has been for over 300 years, we’ve been knocked to our knees by this one, and we need our fellow Americans and our leaders to step in and expedite help immediately. We may have two legs to stand on, but we need more than that right now.
Kelley Shinn is a writer at work on a memoir.
Now in print:About Us: Essays From The New York Times Disability Series,” edited by Peter Catapano and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, published by Liveright.
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