The News & Observer, Chris Seward, Associated Press
MANTEO, N.C. — Residents along North Carolina's coastline spent Tuesday scrubbing floors flooded by Hurricane Irene and dragging mounds of soaked debris to the curb while state officials tallied the damage from a storm that destroyed more than 1,100 homes.
Preliminary tallies show that Hurricane Irene caused at least $71 million in property damage in seven eastern counties and more in agricultural losses, Gov. Beverly Perdue said after touring the region with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. The governor emphasized that damage figures were preliminary and will likely grow.
"This has become an expensive hurricane for North Carolina. So, though others are saying she was a Category 1, for our state, and for our coastline, the magnitude of the rain, the intensity of the wind and the duration of the hit for our coast is significant," Perdue said during a news conference on the Outer Banks.
Later in Raleigh, the governor said she had ordered the state Transportation Department to come up with a short-term plan for the carved-up N.C. Highway 12 by the end of next week. She said she wants traffic flowing again within a few weeks.
Four breaches in the highway have cut off Hatteras Island from the mainland, and ferries are bringing supplies to the people who stayed there during the storm.
"Highway 12 remains a major concern," Perdue said. "I have also ordered DOT to come up with a long-term solution for Highway 12."
The storm that made landfall at Cape Lookout on Saturday and then steamed up the East Coast contributed to six deaths in North Carolina while leaving hundreds of thousands without power and damage that's still being tallied. The storm also dealt a blow to tourism-dependent towns coming days before the Labor Day weekend.
In Wanchese on the southern tip of Roanoke Island, growing piles of roadside debris marked where hurricane-whipped flood waters surged out of the sounds and rose to waist- or chest-deep in neighborhoods.
Jared Waters, 24, picked through his wet possessions while searching for a place to live. During the storm, water from Croatan and Roanoke sounds came three feet over the ground and roughly six inches into the home he rents. His landlord promised to fix the floors, but Waters feared the moist crawlspace under the brick home will breed mold.
"I've done flood cleanup before and I know how fast that stuff grows," Waters said. "And you can't live in a house with mold, especially with the standing water under the house. There's a pretty good chance we're not coming back."
His fellow tenant in the two-family home, Edward Spencer, gestured at waterlogged mattresses, a box spring, sheets and a wet recliner junked along the curb. A fisherman, Spencer was putting his salvageable belongings into the bed of a pickup truck alongside his shrimping nets.
"I'm leaving," he said. "Why set up and let this happen again?"
Federal officials promised help. Perdue's administration was finishing damage assessments Tuesday that will be used to request federal assistance. Napolitano, a former Arizona governor whose department oversees the Federal Emergency Management Agency, promised those requests will be reviewed quickly.
"Once we get them, we will move things very quickly," she said.
Officials said the first counties to be considered for federal disaster help will be Dare, Craven, Beaufort, Tyrrell, Carteret, Pamlico and Hyde.
The hurricane inflicted serious damage on the state's tobacco, corn, cotton and some soybean crops, said Vilsack, the U.S. agriculture secretary and a former Iowa governor. He urged farmers to file crops insurance claims and said additional assistance may be available.
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