New Bern hopes for Labor Day tourism

Posted August 31, 2011 2:43 p.m. EDT
Updated August 31, 2011 7:37 p.m. EDT

— The city of New Bern was moving full speed ahead Wednesday to clear tree limbs, branches and other debris left in roadways and the downtown business district by Hurricane Irene in the hopes that people planning to visit for Labor Day weekend will keep their plans.

In addition to its own crews, the city hired 80 private contractors to speed up the clean-up process, said city spokeswoman Colleen Roberts. Four million pounds of yard waste has been removed from the city so far.

New Bern was blanketed in floodwaters, as deep as 7 feet in some places, after Irene overflowed the Neuse River and Pamlico Sound on Saturday. About 150 homes were damaged and six were destroyed.

The waters had receded by Wednesday, but the mess left behind was still piled on curbs, waiting to be hauled away.

Five downtown businesses were damaged beyond repair, but Roberts said the remaining businesses are open and eager for a big tourist weekend.

"We don't have flooding situations here anymore," she said. "Our businesses are open and our restaurants are open, so we encourage folks to still make their plans if they're coming for Labor Day weekend."

The Hilton hotel had to rip out all of its first-floor carpets and plans to replace its roof, manager Michael McMahon said.  Though 35 of its rooms were damaged, the hotel plans to stay open during the repairs, which could take up to 10 weeks.

"We were lucky – very, very lucky," McMahon said. "Our meeting space and our conference rooms were bone dry."

Power has been restored to 90 percent of New Bern's residents, and city officials hope to restore the rest by Friday.

The city is known for its old-world charm. It is Gov. Bev Perdue's hometown and the former state capital.