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Irene damage in North Carolina at least $70 million: governor

By Jim Brumm

WILMINGTON, North Carolina (Reuters) - Hurricane Irene demolished about 1,100 homes and caused at least $70 million of damage in North Carolina, Governor Beverly Perdue said at a news conference on Tuesday.

The governor, who scouted the damage by air with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, said the financial hit would rise once agricultural and business losses were factored in.

"This has become an expensive hurricane for North Carolina," Perdue said.

The governor said power outages had dwindled to 151,000, down from a high of more than 600,000, and 13 shelters housed about 850 evacuees overnight.

Efforts to restore power supplies cut by Irene continued on Tuesday in Virginia and North Carolina, where crews faced a brief setback after powerful nighttime thunderstorms created thousands more outages.

Progress Energy said 44,500 customers in North Carolina remained without power as of noon, down from about 280,000 customers who experienced outages at the storm's peak Saturday afternoon.

More than 440,000 customers lost power at some point due to the hurricane, and thousands more faced additional outages after strong winds and lightning hit the eastern part of the state Monday night.

The company said it expected to have 96 percent of affected customers back in service by midnight.

Dominion Virginia Power spokesman Dan Genest said 368,200 customers in Virginia and 38,800 in North Carolina remained without power on Tuesday. He said 90 to 95 percent of customers would be reconnected by Friday, with "everybody back on sometime late Saturday evening."

Officials said the predicted risk of moderate flooding along the Nansemond and Blackwater rivers in Virginia had passed.

"They were thinking there might be a threat in that area, however there is not as of right now," Virginia Department of Emergency Management spokeswoman Taya Jarman said. "Right now the threat is over."

(Additional reporting by Matthew A. Ward in Chesapeake, Va; Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)

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