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Easley Wants Some N.C. Counties To Be Declared Disaster Areas

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Gov. Mike Easley is asking the federal government for help dealing with the drought. Easley wants more than half the counties in the state declared disaster areas.

The governor's office has determined that more than 54 counties have "excessive losses" from the drought. Easley has written Ann Veneman, secretary of the U.S. Agriculture Department, asking for the disaster declaration.

The affected counties stretch from Ashe and Burke counties in the western part of the state to Robeson and Northampton counties in the east.

The North Carolina Department of Agriculture is in the process of assessing the total monetary damage associated with the drought. Preliminary estimates of agricultural losses exceed $170 million.

If the disaster desgination is granted, financial help, including low-interest loans, would be available for farmers and other industries that have lost money because of the drought. Easley told WRAL the help would be available for now and later in the year.

"We hope to get some relief from the federal government by the way of the relief you need in September and October, if we don't get a tropical depression to sit really in central North Carolina for a while because these water tables have been dropping year after year and year," Easley said.

Easley is asking all North Carolinians to begin or increase water conservation, and he is calling on the counties most directly affected, where the drought is the worse, to impose mandatory restrictions. Many counties have already started water conservation measures.

Crop losses in some of the counties are as much as 75 percent to 80 percent.

Officials say the recent rainfall, while welcome, has not improved the drought situation.

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