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Utility Companies Reach Goal; Power Restored To 90 Percent Of N.C. Customers

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DURHAM, N.C. — The state's utilities report that power has been restored to more than 90 percent of their customers. They also say the remaining outages will be cleared up by Saturday at the latest.

As of 7 a.m. Thursday, Duke Power officials said there are 20,000 outages in Durham County. They expect to have everyone restored by midnight Saturday.

CP&L officials said there are still 4,500 outages statewide. Officials said Wake County has less than 300 outages.

North Carolina's two biggest power companies both claim the high cost of the storm will not result in higher utility bills.

Duke Power expects storm cleanup and power restoration will cost the company tens of millions of dollars, but officials said it will not charge customers more on their bills. CP&L has already made assurances that storm costs will be absorbed by the company and not passed on to customers.

In Durham, which was one of the hardest areas hit by last week's ice storm, students returned to school and some were actually glad to come back to class.

"I missed my friends. I never get to see them usually, so I'm glad to be back," student Amari Wells said.

"I'm glad to be going back to school. It is kind of fun. Doing my work is kind of fun," student Ryan Musleh said.

After a solid week of delays caused by the ice storm, almost every school system is operating on a normal schedule Thursday, except for Granville County schools, which is operating on a 2-hour delay.

While students are returning to their normal school routine, for others, their routine is anything but normal. Some streets around Durham are still closed while city crews work to clear debris from roadways.

In a telephone hook-up Wednesday, Gov. Mike Easley briefed North Carolina Sen. John Edwards and Sen.-Elect Elizabeth Dole and members of Congress on the effects of the ice storm. Easley asked their help in lobbying the White House for federal funds to help reimburse the state and local governments for cleanup and recovery costs. He also wants help in getting the government to relax federal rules.

"We need automatic replacement of the food stamp benefits. We are seeking a waiver from the Department of Agriculture to allow us to replace food stamps automatically," Easley said. "The second thing is more crisis money for things like heating wood, kerosene and blankets. North Carolina's crisis allotment was $11 million and we've already gone through that."

Easley said he will create a panel to study the ice storm and recommend ways to avoid such widespread damage in similar weather disasters in the future.

N.C. State economist Michael Walden expects last week's ice storm to cost the state between $400 million to $600 million. At its peak, officials said the storm resulted in the loss of power to more than 1 million people in the Carolinas.

Officials with the insurance industry said claims from last week's ice storm could reach $85 million. Nearly 50,000 home and car owners have filed claims. Most are for structural damage and food spoilage. Companies expect the numbers to rise from frozen pipes and power surge damage.


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