VIRGINIA BEACH, Aug. 29 — As Virginia continued to clean up and assess damage from Hurricane Irene, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell said Monday he had no regrets about the buildup of feverish warnings by public officials in advance of the tropical storm.
“Sounding the clarion call about the potential danger was absolutely the right thing to do,” McDonnell (R) said at a news conference at Camp Pendleton after conducting a flyover of damaged areas in the Hampton Roads region with the Virginia National Guard. McDonnell said the advance warnings helped minimize damage from a storm whose impact had been forecast to be much worse.
“I’d much rather err on the side of safety,” McDonnell said. Having flown over Sandbridge Beach, a sliver of land south of the city that had been hit by a small tornado spawned by the hurricane Saturday, McDonnell said some of its residents could have been killed or seriously injured had they not heeded a mandatory evacuation order. McDonnell acknowledged a concern, however, that people may not heed dire warnings the next time.
“At the end of the day, you know, only God knows what these things are going to do,” McDonnell said. “You’ve got to be prepared for the worst and hope for the best, and that’s the attitude that we had. If we had a little less damage than we anticipated as in this one . . . then we are thankful to God.”
McDonnell expressed condolences to the families of four Virginians who died from storm-related causes and many more who incurred property damage.
The governor, flanked by members of Virginia’s congressional delegation, also said the state would aggressively push the U.S. government for a major disaster declaration that would allow Virginia to receive federal funds to help pay for damage caused by the storm. President Obama has issued an emergency declaration to help defray the costs of taking steps to protect against a natural disaster.
McDonnell said the state suffered its second-largest power outage in state history with 2.5 million people affected, or more than any other state on the Eastern Seaboard.
As of midday Monday, McDonnell said Dominion Virginia Power had restored power to more than 500,000 customers of the 1.1 million affected. There were about 550,000 still to go, he said. Of those, about 205,000 are in the Hampton Roads area, about 274,000 are in Richmond and the rest are scattered across the state.
With 6,000 utility workers busy restoring power, McDonnell said all power should be restored in Northern Virginia by Tuesday, and that at least 90 percent of all customers in the rest of the commonwealth should have power back by Friday.
McDonnell also urged residents to exercise caution as they go about cleanup, noting that half the fatalities from Hurricane Isabel occurred after the storm from downed power lines, flooding and other effects.
The previously issued federal emergency declaration has allowed the state to receive FEMA reimbursement of 75 percent of the costs to protect residents in advance of the storm, such as setting up shelters and paying overtime to emergency workers.
A Major Disaster Declaration would allow the state to seek 75 percent reimbursement for the costs of damages and repairs to roads, bridges, dams, pumping stations and other infrastructure, according to Michael M. Cline, state coordinator with Virginia’s Department of Emergency Management. The federal government can also assist with residents’ housing costs, he said.
Cline said state officials expect to complete their assessment of damage by early next week in seeking FEMA aid.
Cline said Virginia must document at least $10 million in damages to qualify for FEMA assistance, which amounts to 75 percent of the cost. Cities, counties and other localities must document that their jurisdictions suffered damages of at least $3.24 per person to qualify for federal disaster assistance.