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North Carolina secures more post-Irene assistance

WINSTON-SALEM, North Carolina (Reuters) - North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue announced on Saturday that she has secured federal disaster assistance for five more counties following Hurricane Irene, which made landfall between Cape Lookout and Cape Hatteras on the state's Outer Banks on August 27.

Greene, Jones, Nash, Warren and Wilson counties have been declared federal disaster areas and individuals and businesses there will be able to seek low-interest loans or grants for storm recovery.

Eighteen counties in North Carolina have now been approved for individual disaster assistance.

The governor also announced today that nine more counties will receive public assistance: Bertie, Camden, Currituck, Greene, New Hanover, Pasquotank, Perquimans, Pitt and Wayne.

Public assistance helps with community recovery costs, such as debris removal and public facilities repair. Those nine will be added to the 20 counties that were granted public assistance on Thursday.

Emergency officials said on Saturday they were preparing to let residents of the North Carolina towns of Hatteras, Frisco and Buxton, deemed the safest areas, back on to Hatteras Island, the large barrier island of the Outer Banks, in stages from Sunday through Wednesday.

The towns of Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo and Avon will remain closed, officials said.

Residents have not been able to return because of wide breaks caused by the storm in Highway 12, the main highway up the Outer Banks.

Traffic should be restored to NC Highway 12 within a month, after a manufactured bridge is erected across the largest breach and all other breaches are filled in.

The governor said on Friday that the estimated $10 million cost of the 630-foot-long bridge and other road repairs on the barrier islands would be covered by federal funding.

On Friday and Saturday, road crews performed site inspection and preparation for building the bridge across a 300-foot breach in the highway, said Sandy Sanderson, Dare County emergency manager, who lives in Kill Devil Hills on Hatteras Island and did not evacuate for the storm, he said.

"No, ma'am, I don't get paid to evacuate," he said. "When I evacuate, I don't get paid, let me put it that way."

He said Irene dumped rain on the Outer Banks for 12 hours.

"What we have is standing water. It's not structural damage. It's flooding damage."

Power outages in North Carolina, which reached a high of 660,000 after the storm, were down to then 5,000 customers on Saturday, said Ernie Seneca, spokesman for the North Carolina Division of Emergency Management.

(Reporting by Harriet McLeod. Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Peter Bohan)

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