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Work Crews, Residents Clean Up Eastern N.C. After Storms

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Rain drenched North Carolina's eastern counties on Sunday as electric crews rushed to return power to customers and tree crews and residents picked up debris left by three days of violent storms.

Steady, sometimes heavy rain fell from the Raleigh area to the ocean, causing minor flooding in some areas and raising the Neuse River just to its flood stage in Clayton.

Elsewhere, rivers were rising. But none was expected to breach its banks any time soon.

"It should be very marginal flooding," said Brandon Locklear, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Raleigh.

If the river overflowed anywhere, he said, it would probably be in a park near U.S. 70 -- posing the greatest danger to young puddle-jumpers.

"Kids love to wade in the water," he said. "We discourage that."

A mid-afternoon tornado warning issued for parts of Craven and Carteret counties expired with no reports of damage.

Gov. Easley visited the Wilmington area to assess damage from the storms and urge residents to be careful as they clean up fallen trees and damage to their homes.

"Surviving a storm is only half the battle," he said.

About 31,000 people in the eastern counties were without power Saturday morning. But the number had dropped substantially by afternoon.

Progress Energy had 30,000 customers without power Sunday morning. But only 14,800 were affected by 4 p.m. Most were in the Wilmington area.

Continuing bad weather -- and fresh outages as a result -- gave crews some trouble. But the company expected to have most customers back on line by midnight, spokesman Rick Kimble said.

"There are some customers in areas with more damage, and that could take the crews longer to clear," he said.

Dominion Power had almost 4,000 North Carolina customers without ower in the morning but had cut that figure in half -- to 1,904 -- by afternoon. Most were in Martin, Washington and Tyrrell counties, in a line along U.S. 64 from Williamston to Columbia.

About 500 customers of electric co-ops had no power by afternoon, down from 6,000 in the morning, said Rick Martinez, a spokesman for the North Carolina Electric Membership Corp.

Most were in Brunswick County, where Hurricane Charley entered North Carolina at midday Saturday.

The past several days of nasty weather could not entirely be blamed on Charley and Tropical Storm Bonnie, which passed through the state Thursday.

"For almost the entire week now, regardless of Bonnie and Charley, we've had a front in the area that's been very sluggish," said NWS meteorologist Rod Gonski.

He said the system helped keep Charley to the easternmost part of the state, though it also exacerbated the rainfall through the region.

But he and other forecasters expected the rain to taper off through the day, leaving dryer conditions for Monday.

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