Published: 2011-08-27 20:39:00
Updated: 2011-08-29 07:55:37
Posted August 27, 2011 8:39 p.m. EDT
Updated August 29, 2011 7:55 a.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — North Carolina leaders flew in clear skies Sunday over areas damaged by Hurricane Irene and pledged state and federal aid to help the coast and eastern counties recover.
"The damage is pervasive," Gov. Bev Perdue said. "While Irene has left North Carolina, there are still very real dangers, such as downed power lines, rising floodwaters and fallen trees."
She pledged: "We will reach anyone who needs help as quickly as we can."
"The storm moved very slowly across our coastal regions, and the landscape shows the effects of a very powerful hurricane," House Speaker Thom Tillis said. "I saw significant damage to farmland, beaches and infrastructure."
Irene brought 85-mph winds, gusts up to 115 mph and heavy rain Saturday as it passed near the Crystal Coast, landed near Cape Lookout at 7:47 a.m., tracked along the coastal mainland and exited through the northern Outer Banks, back to sea.
The storm's biggest impacts appear to be extensive power outages; coastal flooding, particularly along the sounds and rivers; and downed trees from the coast to the Triangle.
State Insurance Commissioner Wayne Godwin said the total cost of Irene's passage won't be known for weeks, but he expected that it could add up to tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars. Altogether, Irene might coast the East Coast billions, he said.
State Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said he was concerned about damage to crops, a nearly $6.3 billion business in eastern North Carolina.
Gov. Bev Perdue toured damaged areas in eastern North Carolina by air and ground Sunday. She noted the fate of homeowners in the Carteret County town of Harlowe.
"That whole community was destroyed. You see people who have built their lifetime dream lose it," Perdue said. "But the good new is they're alive, and they'll be able to regroup and go forward."
She planned to tour Rocky Mount, Windsor, Bayboro and Greenville Monday.
U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano promised full federal support for recovery efforts.
"Are we glad it wasn’t a Category 3 hurricane that hit dead on to the United States? Of course, we are," Napolitano said. "Does that mean that we can sit back in our chairs and not put the full force of the federal government in support of the states and cities that were affected by Irene? No, we still have to be leaning forward."
Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger said legislators would work to make sure resources were directed where they are needed in damaged areas.
"The General Assembly will do everything necessary to help restore and rebuild what has been lost," Berger said. "We're grateful for the emergency personnel working around the clock and the resolve of North Carolinians who sacrifice time and time again to meet the needs of others."
So far, Perdue has requested generators from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and federal aid is available to residents of 34 counties covered by an emergency disaster declaration:
Beaufort, Bertie, Brunswick, Camden, Carteret, Chowan, Columbus, Craven, Currituck, Dare, Duplin, Edgecombe, Gates, Greene, Halifax, Hertford, Hyde, Johnston, Jones, Lenoir, Martin, Nash, New Hanover, Northampton, Onslow, Pamlico, Pasquotank, Pender, Perquimans, Pitt, Tyrrell, Wayne, Washington, and Wilson.
Brig. Gen. James Trogden, with the state Army National Guard, has been appointed to lead recovery efforts by both federal and state National Guard forces in North Carolina. The N.C. Guard has dispatched 441 soldiers and airmen and two helicopters to help, and 2,100 troops and five helicopters were on standby.
The state Highway Patrol has more than 300 troopers working in eastern counties. They have responded to 150 wrecks since Friday night.
Thirty-eight shelters housing 2,600 evacuees remained open late Sunday morning. Volunteers with the Red Cross, North Carolina Baptist Men and Salvation Army have cooked nearly 20,000 meals for evacuees and first responders.
The state has established food and water distribution points in Hyde and Carteret counties.
Hundreds of thousands without power
Around 300,000 homes and businesses in North Carolina were without power Sunday morning – down from nearly 1 million at the peak of the outages Saturday.
Progress Energy had nearly 162,000 customers without power at 10 a.m., from the Triangle to Jacksonville and Wilmington. Virginia-based Dominion Power had outages affecting tens of thousands of homes and businesses across northeastern counties, from the Roanoke Rapids and Rocky Mount areas east to Corolla and Manteo.
N.C. Electric Cooperatives reported at 2 p.m. that it had 92,000 customers without service. The group represents smaller utilities serving Halifax and Edgecombe counties, the Bogue Banks and the southern Outer Banks, including Hatteras and Ocracoke islands and Pamlico County.
Duke Energy had restored power to most customers in Durham, Orange and Chatham counties.
Damage reports across NC