North Carolina suffered more than US$400M in damage from Irene, says governor; farms, other agricultural operations incurred more than US$320M in losses

RALEIGH, North Carolina , September 2, 2011 () – North Carolina suffered more than $400 million in damage from Hurricane Irene, including massive losses to agriculture and uninsured homes, the governor said Friday. The state is continuing to dig out from the storm and planning a way to restore the link between Hatteras Island and the mainland.

Farms and other agricultural operations lost more than $320 million, said the governor, adding she is asking U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack for an expedited major disaster declaration for 43 counties in eastern North Carolina. She said in a statement that, without help, many farms will go out of business.

Other new estimates announced Friday include local government costs of more than $45 million and damage of more than $40 million to uninsured or underinsured home and businesses. Those numbers could increase as teams continue to assess damage from the storm, which made landfall the morning of Aug. 27.

"We have moved quickly to provide every bit of assistance possible for the families, businesses and farms that were hit by Hurricane Irene," Perdue said in the statement. "We knew the financial toll would be large, but our determination to help victims of the storm recover is larger."

More than 1,100 homes were damaged and six people were killed in North Carolina after Irene came ashore last Saturday at the southern end of the Outer Banks. It battered the state for hours, dumping rain and carving new breaches on Hatteras Island along the Outer Banks.

The disaster declaration would allow the Agriculture Department to provide low-interest loans and other federal assistance. Damaged crops include corn, cotton, peanuts, sweet potatoes and tobacco. Also damaged were swine and poultry, along with farm buildings, machinery and equipment.

"As you saw, Hurricane Irene devastated agriculture in our eastern counties," Perdue said in her letter to Vilsack. Damage was worse than it might have been otherwise because drought conditions had withered crops and delayed harvests, she said.

"We anticipate losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and we appreciate your willingness to assist with the recovery," she wrote.

Vilsack and other federal officials visited the state Tuesday. Thirteen counties have received presidential disaster declarations, allowing families and business owners to seek low-interest loans or grants for recovery. In addition, 20 counties will receive public assistance to help governments pay for costs of their storm response, debris removal and infrastructure repairs.

State and federal emergency management officials have opened five disaster recovery centers. About 170 people remain in three shelters, and fewer than 14,000 customers remain without power, Perdue said.

Although most of the state has reopened within a week after the storm hit, some areas remain closed to visitors, including Hatteras and Ocracoke islands and areas of the Cape Lookout National Seashore north of the lighthouse. Dare County officials said Friday that Hatteras Island, accessible only by ferry and a bridge that leads to a storm-closed road, won't be ready for vacationers until sometime after Sept. 17.

To aid that process, North Carolina will build a temporary bridge across the largest breach through the Hatteras Island highway and fill in all the other gaps, allowing the road to reopen within a month, Perdue said. The repairs to N.C. Highway 12 will cost $10 million, which will be paid for with federal dollars, she said.

Irene created breaches at the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, south of the Bonner Bridge, and in the village of Rodanthe.

Residents of the southernmost villages are being allowed to return to the island this weekend. But authorities haven't said when residents of the villages that suffered the most damage from Irene — Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo and Avon — will be allowed to return. Ferries have been bringing supplies to the approximately 2,500 residents who rode out the storm on the island.

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