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Mopping Up and Adding Up Are Well Under Way

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RALEIGH — Hurricane Fran's devastation hasbeen the Number One topic in North Carolina for the past week, but nowconversation focuses more on the cleanup. How to get 3 feet of sand outof a beach house, where a chain saw blade can be sharpened, how todispatch the aroma left by food defrosting in a freezer power-less for aweek -- or possibly longer.

And everyone is aware of the cost. Of the 22 North Carolinianswho died in storm-related circumstances. Of homes, businesses andvehicles damaged, of crop and livestock losses, of personal property thatfloated out to sea or sank in the storm-related flooding.

Experts still have their sharp pencils out, doing the toting up.Estimates are that the damage in North Carolina alone will probably top $4billion. Unfortunately, a substantial portion of that total may not becovered by insurance or government. And Fran didn't dally in this state;she roared north to wreak havoc on Virginia, West Virginia, parts ofPennsylvania -- and to cause the Potomac River to spread its flood watersover low-lying areas of Washington, D.C. The overall damage figure willbe much higher.

While Fran wasn't the biggest or most damaging hurricane in U.S.history, from a Tar Heel perspective it was the worst to hit the state.Renee Hoffman, a state emergency management spokeswoman said, "Itsupersedes anything since Hurricane Hazel."

Hazel had slammed into the state most unexpectedly on Oct. 15, 1954.That was a level four storm, one category higher than Fran. The weatherforecast, created in decades before Doppler radar and computer tracking,had predicted only strong winds with rain squalls. It was to clear in theafternoon, the forecast said.

Instead, Hazel caught everyone off guard as she wrecked property and killed 19 people in North Carolina, ultimately breaking open a120-mile-wide swath northward into Canada. A total of 350 people died.

Fran was so severe, people have to go back 42 years to find acomparison.

Now, as then, people ventured forth in the calm after the storm,surveyed the damage and got to work. Governor James B. Hunt has askedthat everyone help with the clean-up and Raleigh Mayor Tom Fetzerencouraged city residents to pitch in.

The city's Pullen Park, next to the NorthCarolina State University campus, took a lot of tree damage. Armed withchain saws and trash bags, a phalanx of volunteers came out Saturday toput the park in more normal condition. The Pullen Park contingent wasamong literally thousands of volunteers who rolled up their sleeves towork in neighborhoods, parks and greenways across the state.

In Orange County, volunteers gathered so muchdebris that the road to the landfill was packed with vehicles ready todeposit even more. Students pitched in at UNC-Chapel Hill to clean upthe campus.

In Burgaw, in Pender County, Samaritan's Purse was removing fallentrees and patching roofs. The organization is headed by evangelistFranklin Graham.

The Red Cross has set up shelters and aid stations in several locationsfrom the Piedmont to the coast. National Guardsmen have been clearing debrisfrom schoolyards. In Durham, the guardsmen used chain saws to remove thedebris in Maplewood Cemetery.

And everywhere, neighbors have been working together. They've shared food, generators and air conditioning, straightened up theirstreets, and remembered the elderly or frail who aren't up todealing with Fran's fury -- or up to dealing with the occasional conartist who inevitably tries to make a bad situation even worse.

Tree removal businesses are swamped with people begging for trees to betaken off houses, lifted from cars, removed from driveways. It's becomenormal to drive streets piled high at the curb with tree branches andtrunks. And the massive crane in a neighbor's yard, which two weeks agowould have drawn stares and much comment, now draws only the briefestlook.

The crane is but one more tool for the clean-up -- a project spawned ina few hours' fury that will take weeks or possibly months to complete.But North Carolinians have begun the work in earnest.

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