North Carolina Damage ‘More Extensive’ Than Thought, Perdue Says

North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue said the state suffered “millions and millions of dollars” in wind and flood damage from Hurricane Irene, which is also blamed for the deaths of six people.

“It’s a much more extensive hit than anyone thought,” Perdue told reporters in Trenton, a tobacco- and cotton-growing community that was her first visit today to areas hit hard by the storm. “People were distracted by the fact that the media began to say, ‘Well, it’s not much. It’s just a Category 1.’”

The sun was shining today in North Carolina, and state teams have begun assessing the damage, Perdue said. The governor said more than 500,000 homes and businesses are still without power, and she urged residents to be patient as tree-cutting and electrical crews start working.

“They are going to spend a lot of this day cutting trees to get down the roads where the power is out,” she said. “Hot lines, that’s the big scare right now.”

Perdue, 63, a first-term Democrat, and her staff arrived by two helicopters, which landed in the lawn of the Jones County Civic Center, which was littered by yellow insulation. Winds ripped off a section of the roof yesterday, forcing about 50 evacuees to relocate to an elementary school.

Insurer Losses

Hurricane Irene may cost insurers $200 million to $400 million in losses in North Carolina and South Carolina, with about 90 percent of the total from North Carolina, according to catastrophe risk-modeler Eqecat. The firm provided the information today in an e-mailed statement.

Hurricane Floyd is the most expensive storm in state history, with estimated losses of $1.4 billion in 1999 dollars, according to the North Carolina Department of Insurance.

Irene slammed into North Carolina, making landfall near Cape Lookout about 7:30 a.m. eastern time yesterday with maximum sustained winds of 85 miles per hour (140 kph), according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center. The storm dumped as much as 14 inches (36 centimeters) of rain on eastern North Carolina and extreme southeastern Virginia, with the largest amount reported at Bunyan, North Carolina, according to an advisory from the center.

There was flooding in Pamlico, Craven, Hyde and Beaufort counties, said Ernie Seneca, a spokesman for the state’s Division of Emergency Management. Responders performed 76 water rescues in Beaufort County yesterday and overnight, Seneca said in a telephone interview today from Raleigh.

Roads and Bridges

More than 200 roads and 21 bridges were closed, including a section of Interstate 95 in Halifax County because of downed trees and Highway 12, the main artery in the Outer Banks, Seneca said. There is a major breach on Highway 12 about five miles north of Rodanthe in Dare County, and several other breaches have been reported on that highway, Perdue’s office said in an e-mail.

There were at least six storm-related fatalities in North Carolina, with four more in Virginia and one in Maryland, mostly from falling trees from the wind. A woman in Pitt County was found dead this morning inside her home that had been hit by a tree, said Sergeant Jorge Brewer of the North Carolina State Highway Patrol in a telephone interview.

Dolphin Rescue

One storm victim who survived Irene was a dolphin who washed up on the beach at Avon in the Outer Banks.

Valerie Real of Buxton said she was walking on the beach with a friend when she saw the dolphin and used a plastic bag from the top of a dune to get the attention of three men. They helped her drag the mammal back to the ocean, where it swam away.

“At first, I thought it was going to be way too heavy, but I was always hopeful,” Real said in an interview.

Brad Doerr, 41, an Avon resident driving past to check on the status of his home and Dairy Queen business, said it was an emotional experience.

“It kind of made me choke up,” Doerr said in an interview.

Another bit of good news came from Swan Quarter, where the seaside village of 850 tried to defend itself from storms with a 6.2-mile, six-foot-high earthen and plastic dike that encircles the town. It was completed this year, and not all residents were convinced it would stop the storm surge.

‘The Dike Held’

“The dike held,” longtime resident Jimmy Williams said in a telephone interview. “Without it, it would have been the equivalent of Floyd.”

Some water breached the top of the wall, leaving up to a foot of water on some streets, “but it did work,” Williams said.

In Maryland, Governor Martin O’Malley said St. Mary’s County on the Chesapeake Bay was hard hit by downed trees and power lines, and about 200 roads were closed around the state. He said there was little damage in Ocean City, a vacation spot where tens of thousands were evacuated before the storm.

“The beach looks good in Ocean City,” the governor said in a video this morning. “There has not been much damage to the boardwalk to speak of.”

Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell estimated that about 2.5 million people are without power and said the Colonial gasoline pipeline is still partly closed, though he said he expects it to be restored soon enough to avoid shortages.

Still, while the damage is still being tallied, he said the impact was less than feared.

“We prepared for the worst, but we fared better than expected,” he told reporters on a conference call today.

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