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Governor Tours Hardest Hit Beach Communities; Crop Damage $154 Million

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NORTH TOPSAIL BEACH, N.C. (AP) — July 15, 1996 - 6:20 p.m. EDTBy ESTES THOMPSON,Associated Press Writer
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  • Frustrated Topsail Island property owners waited for hours to gain access to their homes. One homeowner said he thought the wait was uncalled for. Listen toauorReal Audiofiles. Hurricane Bertha caused the most damage on this Onslow County beach island, where Gov. Jim Hunt and other state officials Monday surveyed uninhabitable homes and a road washed out by surf.
  • The group toured artificial dunes that once offered the appearance of protection had been washed through quickly by storm surge, leaving condos and houses exposed to the ocean waters.

    Meanwhile, assessment teams tallied structural damages in the storms close to $60 million, a figure expected to keep climbing. The estimate included damages of $40 million in Onslow County.

    ``This is the worst in North Carolina, the damage to the homes, dunes washed away,'' Gov. Jim Hunt said as he walked along the flat beach. ``A lot of North Carolina dodged the bullet, but they have a real disaster here.''

    But the storm's destruction may be most painful for the state's farmers, where estimated losses from 10 Southeastern counties total $154.7 million, according to state officials.

    ``Those are the main ones regarding tobacco and corn losses that we have in,'' said Greg Cook, a state Agriculture Department official.

    Bertha's rainfall contributed to the rupture of a hog waste lagoon in Craven County between New Bern and Vanceboro. Officials said 1.8 million gallons of waste flowed toward the Neuse River from Cecil Rhodes' hog farm late Friday or early Saturday.

    In Jones County, farmers hecked their crops of tobacco ad at least one drove away from his field with wilted, yellow leaves of tobacco.

    Tommy McLamb, a federal agricultural specialist, said there was a 25 to 85 percent loss on tobacco and 30 to 90 percent loss for corn among the affected counties.

    ``Brunswick and Onslow counties are the two worst counties,'' McLamb said. ``Craven and Lenoir counties were also hard hit.''

    Bertha caused at least $4 million damage in South Carolina as it brushed past the state, insurance industry officials said. There were no damage estimates from the other states in Bertha's path, from Virginia to New Jersey, but damage was minimal compared to North Carolina.

    At North Topsail Beach, Onslow County Sheriff Ed Brown said looters have tried to come to the island by boat and state patrols are trying to prevent anyone from coming ashore by water. A 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew was still in effect for the island town of 1,040 residents.

    Meanwhile, an unidentified man died Saturday morning at a home just off the island because the power went out to his lung machine, Brown said, raising Bertha's death toll in North Carolina to two and 10 deaths overall.

    Hunt promised to rally state departments - Transportation, National Guard and Corrections - to provide equipment and labor the residents said they needed for the clean-up. An additional 300 inmates were ordered sent Monday to the hardest hit areas.

    At a meeting earlier in the day with several mayors at the Emerald Isle Town Hall, Hunt ordered immediate suspension of state burning rules. The mayors said they needed to bur timber and branches without restriction to speed the cleanup.

    Hunt also said the state coastal management rules would be eased to allow residents to rebuild docks and piers ripped up by the storm. No fees would be charged, he said.

    At Topsail, motorcyles were deposited by the surge on the side of the roadway, as were washers and dryers in the garage areas of condos. One car was carried across the road and dumped in a ditch. The garage doors of most houses were knocked out by the surge.

    ``Some of the residences were rented by Marines who are deployed and they don't even know about the damage,'' said one resident who packed soaked possessions out in a plastic bag.

    No specific dollar amounts of damage were available here, said County Commissioner Tony Padgett.

    ``When the dunes went, it was all over with,'' he said.

    Residents were allowed on the beach to check their belongings late Sunday. But they were shuttled in school activity buses because the road was undermined and repairs crews needed room to work. In two places along NC 1568, the storm surge washed the roadway away from bridges.

    The governor had to leave his car because the road was being repaired and scramble through a ditch to look at houses and condos.

    At Emerald Isle, town administrator Pete Allen said damage was expected to be double the initial $24 million estimate. Some homes showed obvious scars, such as missing roofs and blown-out basement walls. But there also was water damage inside many houses, Allen said.

    Trees blocked many roads after the storm. Emerald Isle Fire Chief Bill Walker said his crews had to cut their way down a street to rescue a woman stuck in her house. Then they used the saws to cut a path out.

    Ken Heverly, owner of Emerald Isle Pier, said damage to the central portion and ramp meant his summer season business was lost. He said it would take approximately $500,000 to repair the damage.

    In the meantime, his only business will be a grill in the pier store.

    ``Give me a week and I'll sell you a hot dog or two,'' he said.

    Copyright ©1996 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or distributed.

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