John Bazemore, Associated Press
STUMPY POINT, N.C. — The aftermath of Hurricane Irene's weekend grind along eastern North Carolina came into focus Sunday as residents of Hatteras Island lost their highway tether to the mainland, residents cleaned homes scoured by floodwaters and power for some of the half-million once in the dark flickered back to life.
Officials blamed the storm for six deaths. While the numbers were decreasing, hundreds remained in shelters and more than 400,000 still had no electricity with warnings it could take crews days to get all the lights back on. Authorities up and down the coast said schools would stay closed Monday.
Gov. Beverly Perdue said residents were asking for food, water, generators and help with debris removal as she hopscotched to some of the most heavily damaged areas via helicopter. More than 1,700 people remained in 23 shelters around the state.
Still, the governor said the state fared better than she thought it would given early forecasts of the storm hitting with higher-speed winds.
"Overall, the destruction is not as severe as I was worried it might be, but there is still lots and lots of destruction and people's lives are turned upside down," Perdue said in Kill Devil Hills.
Despite the damage, Perdue said she didn't expect Irene to seriously dent the lucrative Labor Day weekend, when tens of thousands of visitors swarm the Outer Banks for a last summer holiday. All the state's beaches except those in Dare County were open Sunday, and Perdue said she expected Dare beaches would soon reopen.
In some places, relief will take a while. Ferries loaded with truckloads of food, supplies and emergency workers were being sent to Dare County to help residents stranded on Hatteras Island after four breaches chewed through Highway 12. The highway is the only road connecting the mainland to the island comprised of seven villages. State officials warned it may be days before the ferries could start taking people to and from the Outer Banks and gave no estimate on when the road might be fixed. Hurricane Isabel in 2003 chewed a new inlet in the island that took two months to repair.
"We're doing everything we can to help them. That's our focus," said Warren Judge, chairman of the Dare County commissioners.
The island is home to 4,000 permanent residents, but also hundreds of pricey vacation homes. The only bridge leading to the island, a two-lane structure badly in need of replacement, carries about 1.5 million vehicles a year, and in a normal year, the tourist season would still have several good weeks left.
Kathy Jarvis gasped when told of the breaches, saying she knows it will be weeks or months before emergency repairs can be made. That's bad news for Dillon's Corner — the combination bait shop and gas station she runs with her husband in Buxton, the village that has the famous black-and-white striped Cape Hatteras lighthouse.
These last couple of months of warm weather are the time Outer Banks businesses depend on to make it through the rest of the year, Jarvis said.
"Economically, we're just paying the bills. We depend on the fall money to put away for winter. I don't know what this is going to do to us," she said.
The washed-out highway was just one scar left by Hurricane Irene's 12-hour march across the eastern part of the state. Its path led to catastrophic sound flooding, as the winds pulled so much water from the sounds to the west that the bottom of the waterways could be seen in some places to the east. Many areas inundated by the sounds also saw Irene's heaviest rains. Up to 15 inches fell as the storm lingered for a few hours.
In South Creek, the Pamlico Sound sent a 13-foot surge into the Pamlico River, then into Muddy Creek and right into Mavis Powers' home.
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