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Eastern NC begins cleanup after downpour, floods

Randy Russell stared at a knee-deep pool of water surrounding his restaurant, Bunn's Barbecue, as it leaked over makeshift sand barriers Monday and through the front door.

"I'd hate to leave it," he said of the restaurant that dates back to 1938 and now must be rebuilt. "But it tries your spirit when this happens."

With more than 200 businesses and homes damaged, Windsor, a town of about 2,300 on the banks of the Cashie River, is one of the places hit hardest in eastern North Carolina by torrential rains and floods from a storm that moved up the East Coast last week. But the scenes of people surveying damage, cleaning up and gingerly making their way through still-flooded roads were repeated all over the region.

Julia Jarema, a spokeswoman with the North Carolina Division of Emergency Management, said officials expect several parts of the state's river system to remain at flood stage this week.

Damage assessment teams will start going out Tuesday. Officials will know later in the week what sort of federal aid the state may be able to get.

In Windsor, the sounds of hammering could be heard up and down King Street, the main drag, as people ripped out carpeting and drywall from businesses there.

Two bison from a petting zoo wandered through the flooded streets until they were corralled Monday in a fenced-in enclosure downtown while the city decides what to do with them.

Gov. Beverly Perdue visited Windsor on Sunday, comparing the damage to that caused by floodwaters from Hurricane Floyd in 1999, whose rainfall totals were surpassed in some places by last week's storm. Perdue encouraged anyone who rebuilds to elevate their buildings.

"I got about 17 inches of water this time, and five feet from Floyd," said Russelll Phelps of the Cooper Insurance Agency on King Street. "But you've got to do the same things with 17 inches that you've got to do with five feet: carpets, sheet rock, computers, everything."

Relief for the area was expected from the state and federal government and from nonprofit groups like the North Carolina Baptist Men, who planned to have 1,000 volunteers in the region this week, said Windsor Mayor James Hoggard.

The storm that hit the East Coast last week dumped rain across the Carolinas and was blamed for causing six traffic deaths in North Carolina. Even though it came after an unusually dry summer, the drenching rain caused rivers from Pender County in the southeast to Bertie County 150 miles north to overflow their banks.

In Windsor, the worst of the rains came Thursday night, just when Hammer Heads Oyster Bar planned to open for the oyster season. The employees managed to get a lot of equipment to safety, including the $30,000 steamer that cooks most of the seafood, but the inside was inundated by floodwater.

Co-owner Adam Hughes was cleaning up Monday and hearing from locals who told him pieces of the restaurant's outdoor deck were found three blocks away. Hughes, who owns the restaurant with his brother, is undaunted.

"We're going to open back up as soon as we can," he said, stepping in rubber boots through the still-wet interior. "Oyster season's ticking away. We've gotta get going."

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Associated Press Writer Mike Baker contributed to this report from Raleigh.