Published: 2011-08-30 14:50:00
Updated: 2011-08-30 21:56:50
Posted August 30, 2011 2:50 p.m. EDT
Updated August 30, 2011 9:56 p.m. EDT
Manteo, N.C. — Hurricane Irene caused more than $71 million in damage in North Carolina, Gov. Beverly Perdue said Tuesday, noting the figure will rise as crop losses and clean-up costs are tallied.
"This has become an expensive hurricane for North Carolina," Perdue said in a Manteo news conference after touring damaged areas with Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, North Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler and U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan.
"While others are saying, 'She was a Category 1,' for our state and for our coastline, the magnitude of the rain and the intensity of the wind and the duration of the hit for our coast is significant," Perdue said.
Irene destroyed more than 1,100 homes in the state, she said, and about 540 people who evacuated during the storm remain in 13 shelters.
North Carolina is asking the federal government to declare seven counties – Beaufort, Carteret, Craven, Dare, Hyde, Pamlico and Tyrrell – disaster areas, which would make residents eligible for disaster recovery aid.
"This state will do whatever it takes to rebuild North Carolina and help these folks put their lives back together," she said.
The helicopter tour showed widespread crop damage in the Belhaven area and damage in Swan Quarter and Engelhard, as well as the areas where N.C. Highway 12 has washed out on Hatteras Island.
"It was a hurricane event, but it was also a flooding event," Napolitano said, noting that she was interested in viewing inland flooding and damage caused along North Carolina's sounds by wind-driven waters.
Vilsack said he had never seen such extensive flood damage to croplands.
"If this is representative of what North Carolina has suffered, it's obviously a fairly significant blow to North Carolina agriculture," he said.
Perdue reiterated her plans to rebuild N.C. 12, the only land link between Hatteras Island and the mainland. She has asked transportation engineers to develop both short- and long-term plans to get traffic flowing on N.C. 12 again.
Although the Federal Emergency Management Agency has said it plans to divert money from tornado recovery efforts in Missouri to help pay for Irene damage, Napolitano said the government isn't short of money for disaster aid.
"You are not in competition (for money). This is not the ACC," she said. "We are going to take care of all of the immediate needs of the states and communities affected by Hurricane Irene."
Congress will appropriate more money to pay for long-term rebuilding projects from Irene and other disasters, she said.
People who want to help in the North Carolina recovery can send their donations to the N.C. Disaster Relief Fund, Perdue said.
The fund, which is operated through the state Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service, will distribute money to various volunteer organizations that work on long-term recovery efforts, such as the repair and rebuilding of homes. Donations are tax-deductible, and funds are for recovery efforts only, not for administrative costs.
The impact of Irene on some North Carolina residents goes beyond the financial and physical toll of cleaning up damage and rebuilding.
Georgia Beach, for example, wept Tuesday morning outside a friend's pottery shop in Manteo, which was heavily damaged by the storm. An adopted neighborhood cat also died in the flooding.
"I love the people here, and they'll make it. They'll be back," Beach said. "It's just a blow, and I hate to see my friends hurting."
Michel Sanchez and Heather Demarest, who own an aroma therapy shop in Manteo, said it's difficult to have construction crews ripping apart their store to repair water damage instead of having friends and customers stopping by.
"They're family. They're not just retail businesses. They are family," Sanchez said.
"We all try to support each other, and to see I don't know how many not even reopen is just really tragic," Demarest said.
Meanwhile, getting the state's coastal tourism industry back on its feet quickly will help the recovery effort, Perdue said, encouraging tourists to return to North Carolina beaches not damaged by Irene.
"Three hundred-plus miles of our coastline is now open for business," she said. "We urge folks to come to North Carolina."