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RALEIGH, NC -– Gov. Bev Perdue this morning submitted requests to President Obama and US Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack asking them to declare a disaster in 18 counties in North Carolina. This comes after Gov. Perdue visited nine of the most heavily damaged counties and personally witnessed the property loss and agricultural damage wrought by Saturday’s tornadoes and severe storms.

If approved by President Obama, it would clear the way for FEMA to provide low-interest loans or grants to tornado victims to help them repair their homes, pay medical costs, rebuild their businesses and begin the long recovery process. The Agriculture Department can provide low interest loans to help farmers get back on their feet.

“Many families have simply been devastated by these storms,” Gov. Perdue said. “As I visited with many of them during the past few days, I’ve pledged to them that we’re going to do all we can to help them get back on their feet as quickly as possible. In the meantime, I ask all North Carolinians to keep these survivors in your prayers, volunteer your time to help those in need, and donate money or goods as you are able.”

Emergency Management officials today confirmed that 23 North Carolinians have died so far as a result of Saturday’s tornado. Eleven people were killed in Bertie County, four each in Bladen and Wake, two in Lee and one each in Cumberland and Harnett counties. Several others remain in critical condition. More than 130 were injured seriously enough to require a visit to a local emergency room.

Gov. Perdue announced that she has set up a fund to provide financial assistance for victims of the tornadoes and storms. The NC Disaster Relief Fund will accept monetary donations and is managed by the Governor’s office in partnership with the United Way of North Carolina. Donations are tax deductible and 100 percent of donated funds will go to survivors. To donate or get information about the fund, please go to: http://www.ncdisasterrelief.org/

“For those looking for a way to give back,” Gov. Perdue said, “this is a great opportunity to help.”

The National Weather Service in Raleigh said approximately 25 tornadoes, five of which packed winds in excess of 135 miles per hour, impacted at least 32 counties spread over the state.

The storms caused wide-spread damage and debris, toppled trees, downed power lines and severely impacted agricultural production in Bertie, Bladen, Craven, Cumberland, Currituck, Greene, Halifax, Harnett, Hertford, Hoke, Johnston, Lee, Onslow, Pitt, Robeson, Sampson, Wake and Wilson counties. At least two public schools were decimated. Shaw University in Raleigh was damaged so severely that it closed for the remainder of the semester. At this point, emergency management staff estimate more than 1,000 homes and businesses have been completely destroyed or damaged. Numerous farms also have been severely impacted damaged with damage to farm equipment, machinery, structures, fields and loss of livestock.

Perdue commended local first responders, EMS crews and search-and-rescue teams who worked tirelessly through the weekend to find and treat tornado victims. She also thanked local, state and federal emergency management teams for their hard work and dedication responding to the storm and assessing damages.

State officials activated the Governor’s Hotline today. People who want to volunteer or donate goods can call toll free 1-888-835-9966. The hotline will be staffed daily from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday.

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