08/30/11 — No word yet on costs from Irene

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No word yet on costs from Irene

By Steve Herring
Published in News on August 30, 2011 1:46 PM

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Dean Brock with Progress Energy repairs power lines at the corner of Lionel and Mulberry streets. They were replacing a transformer that blew during the storm.

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Crews continued to work around the clock removing downed trees throughout the city of Goldsboro Monday. Tim Pittman, of Southern Design, cuts a fallen tree into manageable pieces to be removed on Beech Street Monday afternoon.

Wayne County officials will meet with FEMA officials Thursday to discuss what assistance, if any, will be available to the county following the destruction left by Hurricane Irene.

Damage estimates are still being assessed and it will be several more days before it will be known how much Irene has cost the county and its residents, County Manager Lee Smith said this morning.

The Goldsboro Inspections Department was still counting damage estimates this morning as well, and Berkeley Mall will remain closed today. A comprehensive assessment and an approximate date for the mall's reopening will be discussed this afternoon.

What is known is that a tobacco crop delayed by drought is expected to suffer a 56 percent loss -- about $19 million. About 9,700 acres are planted in tobacco in the county.

Tobacco fields across eastern North Carolina were battered and flattened by Irene's almost 20 hours of non-stop winds. The county had applied for assistance to help set the stalks back up, but was turned down because there is just not enough labor, Smith said.

There is no machine that can be used to straighten the stalks -- it must be done by hand.

The wind bruised the leaves, which will cause the plants to produce a chemical that accelerates leaf maturity. That means that farmers will need to harvest the crop even faster to prevent over-ripening in the field.

Cotton could suffer a 10 percent loss, while the soybean crop is expected to be OK, Smith said. The county's corn crop already had been devastated by drought.

County and city offices are open today. However, the libraries remain closed.

Work was continuing this morning to replace the roof on the county-owned Jeffreys Building on John Street that was damaged by Irene. That project accounts for $180,000 of the estimated $350,000 in damage to county property.

That figure does not include the county's landfill costs. Officials are waiving the tipping fee for county residents who bring storm debris to the landfillin Dudley.

Work crews from the city's public works department, including workers from the sanitation department, were on the street at 6:15 this morning beginning the process of hauling debris out of the city.

Public Works Director Neil Bartlett said all of the city's streets are clear, although there were still some stoplights in the city that do not have power. He said he was told by Progress Energy officials that they were responding first in areas where the most accounts were without power.

As of 8 a.m. this morning, 4,300 Progress Energy customers in Wayne County and 900 in Duplin were still without power. Systemwide, 47,200 did not have power down from a peak of 280,000.

The outages were scattered across Wayne County mainly from Goldsboro east toward Kinston. Power is expected to be restored to 99 percent of Progress Energy customers by Wednesday night with the remainder completed on Thursday, Progress Energy spokesman Jessica Lambert said.

The delay in some areas is where damages were so severe that structures will first have to be rebuilt, she said.

About 500 Tri-County EMC customers did not have power this morning, down from 14,312 at the peak.

"We should wind down today," Tri-County spokes-man Bob Kornegay said.

For Tri-County, the hardest hit area was between LaGrange and Beulaville where most of the scattered outages remained this morning, Kornegay said.

During the storm, Tri-County lost transmission to substations at Grantham, LaGrange, Kornegay, Sarecta and Albertson, he said.

Power could be delayed at some locations if the meter bases were damaged during the storm since they would have to be replaced before power can be turned on, he said.

Kornegay said Tri-County received help from its contract crews and sister cooperative, Blue Ridge Electric from Lenoir.

For the second day, people crowded the county's Department of Social Services seeking replacement for food lost because of the storm.

"There were 1,200 people at DSS for food (Monday)," Smith said. "There has been as third as many since 7 a.m. this morning."

However, since no emergency has been declared, any food would not be replaced until next month, he said.

Life at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base is also returning to normal.

While some crews continue to clean up debris associated with the storm, other airmen are getting back to work -- and the base's fleet, which includes some 60 F-15E Strike Eagles and eight KC-135R Stratotankers, has returned from the installation in Louisiana it was forced to evacuate to.