Anxious residents can't go home yet Police block access to barrier islands after Fran

September 08, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WILMINGTON, N.C. -- With power out, water use restricted, roads impassable and bridges blocked, North Carolinians struggled yesterday to recover from the destruction and disruption caused by Hurricane Fran.

The storm, which killed at least 17 people, has left thousands of residents of the North Carolina coast at least temporarily homeless. And many said that the stress of being unable to find out whether they had houses to return to had only exacerbated the physical difficulties caused by the storm.

"It won't be as bad when I see it -- it's the not knowing that's the worst," said Deborah A. Washburn, 38, of Carolina Beach, a storm-ravaged barrier island town about 10 miles south of Wilmington.

Police have set up roadblocks near the Intracoastal Waterway bridges that lead to the barrier islands. Shortly after dawn, dozens of anxious residents began to line the beach highways, only to be turned away by state troopers.

Police are saying it could be anywhere from three to seven days before they allow homeowners back on the devastated islands, where floodwaters remain high, and sanitation and electrical conditions are considered hazardous.

The damage is by no means limited to eastern North Carolina. In the western part of the state and in Virginia, creeks in the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah Valley were flooded, forcing hundreds of evacuations.

An insurance industry group, the Insurance Information Institute, estimated damage to private property throughout the storm-battered region at $625 million. Other industry experts have put the total cost of the storm at more than $1 billion.

Although Fran had been downgraded to a tropical depression, with winds down to less than 35 mph from a peak of about 120 mph Thursday, its remnants still contained enough moisture to bring heavy rains yesterday to western Pennsylvania, Maryland, eastern Ohio and southwestern New York.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency sent 200 generators to Fort Bragg, N.C., to meet emergency power needs, and the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games donated 200,000 pounds of ice and 14,000 liters of water left over from the Games. Eight truckloads of bottled water were headed for North Carolina.

Late Friday, President Clinton declared Virginia a disaster area, RTC making the state eligible for emergency federal aid. He had already issued such a declaration for North Carolina. Governors have declared state disasters in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.

In North Carolina, 1.5 million customers remained without electricity yesterday, and 115 shelters continued to serve those who could not return to their houses. Curfews remained in effect in many coastal towns, and National Guard troops patrolled damaged areas in the Carolinas.

In Virginia, swollen rivers were expected to crest yesterday at or near record levels, said Mary Kornwolf, a spokeswoman for the State Department of Emergency Services. About 300,000 people remained without power in the state.

Pub Date: 9/08/96

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