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N.C. still fighting Floyd woes

The Associated Press

TARBORO, N.

Tuesday, September 21, 1999

TARBORO, N.C. – More rain fell on North Carolina today, a dismal and unwelcome sight to Isabelle Baker and other owners of more than 30,000 homes damaged from the floods following Hurricane Floyd.

Baker did find comfort in the words of President Clinton, who said during a visit to Tarboro on Monday that the government would stand by those displaced by the deluge through federal aid.

”It was a blessing for him to come here,” said Baker, whose home is submerged in nearby Princeville. ”I really believe he will get all he can to help us.”

Between a half-inch and 1 1/2 inches of rain had fallen before dawn today. The steady morning rainfall wasn’t the deluge some had feared in flooded regions that were soaked by 20 inches of rain last week as Floyd raised rivers to record levels, submerging roads, homes and businesses. And Tropical Storm Harvey, expected to bring more moisture, turned south across Florida, away from North Carolina.

More than 60 people were killed from the Bahamas into New England when Floyd charged up the East Coast, and flooding continues to plague parts of New Jersey and New York. The aftermath appears worst in North Carolina, where at least 35 people have died.

The governor’s office said at least 1,600 homes are damaged beyond repair. An estimated 1,500 people were still stranded, but most were not in life-threatening situations. Some 10,000 are already in shelters.

Preliminary damage figures estimate the price tag for damage at $1.3 billion, but it may exceed the $6 billion total for Hurricane Fran in 1996, the state’s costliest natural disaster in which 24 people died.

”It has become painfully clear that Hurricane Floyd, combined with Hurricane Dennis, is shaping up to be the worst disaster North Carolina has ever seen, and I hope we’ll ever see again,” state public safety secretary Richard Moore said.

Thousands of people remain unable to return home because of floodwaters that have virtually shut down the coastal plain east of Raleigh, an area spanning 18,000 square miles and containing 2.1 million people.

Clinton toured Tarboro, one of the hardest hit towns in an area drenched by more than 2 feet of rain from two hurricanes in two weeks.

”I urge you to keep your spirits up and know we’re going to be with you every step of the way,” Clinton told several hundred people. He announced emergency food stamps and unemployment payments for families in need, the hiring of temporary workers for the cleanup and low-interest loans for farmers.

”When things like this happen to some of us,” the president said, ”we know they could happen to all of us. … We know we have a responsibility as members of the American family to help you get back on your feet again.”

Gov. Jim Hunt made a nationwide appeal for donations to a relief fund for the state, saying ”we have been hit by a terrible blow.”

State officials are also grappling with the health menace caused by rotting farm animals and sewage washed into the floodwaters. The state is seeking incinerators to deal with an estimated 100,000 hogs, 2.4 million chickens and 500,000 turkeys killed in the flooding.

Interstate 95 reopened Monday in North Carolina for the first time since Thursday, but about 300 other roads remained closed.

In northeastern South Carolina, scores of people have fled low-lying areas around Conway in anticipation of the worst flooding in more than 70 years along the Waccamaw River. The highest water is expected next week.

”It’s surely enough to make you age a couple of years,” Mary Roberts said Monday as she waited for some friends with a boat to take her back into the flooded Savannah Bluffs area just east of Conway.

”I have lived down here for 40 years and I have never seen the water this high,” she said.

On Monday, workers piled up sandbags to protect sewage pump stations, yellow graders shored up a main highway and Gov. Jim Hodges asked the president to declare South Carolina a major disaster area.