Irene tops $4.5 million

Published 1:03 am Thursday, September 8, 2011

Washington officials expect the damage totals to climb

Preliminary damage assessments indicate Hurricane Irene caused a minimum of $4.51 million in wind-related and flood-related damage to commercial and residential structures in Washington.

Those assessments and other storm-related information were provided to the Washington City Council during a special meeting Tuesday to discuss the city’s preparations for and responses to Irene. The assessments were made by city building inspectors. City officials expect the damage estimates to increase in coming days.

Thirty residential structures and 12 commercial structures were substantially damaged, with damages estimated at a combined $3 million — $1.8 million in damages to the residential structures and $1.2 million in damages to the commercial structures. Sixty-five residential structures received minor damage estimated at a combined $970,000 in damages, with 30 commercial structures receiving minor damage estimated at a combined $450,000 in damages.

Twenty-five residential structures had combined flood damage estimated at $60,000, with five commercial structures with combined flood damage estimated at $10,000.

“I wanted you to hear the full body of the effort that went in regarding storm preparations and responses,” Mayor Archie Jennings said about his reason for calling the special meeting.

“One thing we know is no two storms are alike,” Jennings said. “This one was certainly — I talked to someone the other day, I think they were from Elizabeth City, who said, ‘Most overrated, most overhyped storm in 30 years.’ I said, ‘You need to come down to Washington. It was all we wanted, and then some.’”

In his report to the council, City Manager Josh Kay said that 13,700 of Washington Electric Utilities’ 14,000 customers (98 percent) were without power as of 5 p.m. Aug. 27. Six of WEU’s seven substations were out of service and 28 of 29 transmission or distribution circuits were out of service, Kay said.

“Unfortunately, wind damage is very hard on electric systems,” Kay said.

Several individual WEU customers may remain without power because of problems with their individual services, Kay noted. Once those customers have those individual services repaired, their power will be restored, he said.

It likely will take another two to three weeks to remove storm-related debris from city streets because of the sheer volume of debris generated by Irene, Kay said.

“I can say city staff were very prepared. We performed well. We also have areas that we can improve,” Kay said. “We will continually evaluate that in coming weeks from a staff perspective.”

Kay said city residents and veteran city employees are talking about Irene’s effect on the area.

“NOAA’s hurricane center says we only got 13.11 inches of rain. We’ve heard reports of 4 or 5 inches more than that,” Kay said. “In talking with some of the crews out and about— electric, water, sewer — those folks, folks who have been here for a long time, said this is, by far, the worst wind-damage storm they can remember.”

The city is waiting on the federal government to issue a declaration that would allow it to seek reimbursement for storm-related recovery expenses. In November 2009, the city earmarked $2 million of its overall reserve fund (now at about $6 million) to help pay for recovery expenses associated with natural disasters such as hurricanes.

The city is keeping detailed records of expenses related to Irene so it is prepared to quickly seek reimbursement for those expenses as soon as federal disaster assistance is available to local governments affected by Irene, said Matt Rauschenbach, the city’s chief financial officer and assistant city manager.

That assistance to local governments should be coming soon, Kay said.

Federal disaster assistance is available to eligible individuals and business owners through several federal programs. The Federal Emergency Management Agency may be contacted at 1-800-621-3362.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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