Two more North Carolina counties have been declared federal disaster areas, bringing to nine the number that are eligible to receive federal assistance in the wake of Hurricane Irene.
Halifax and Lenoir counties were added to the list Thursday, according to Gov. Bev Perdue's office. Residents and business owners who experienced storm-related losses in the nine counties may be eligible for low-interest loans or grants to help rebuild.
The designation came as efforts to restore power to areas hit by Irene near completion. About 8,300 remained without power Thursday afternoon and most of those are expected to have lights back on this week.
Progress Energy, for example, expected to have remaining 2,000 power outages restored by midnight Thursday.
Municipal power agencies and rural electric cooperatives, which together serve about a third of the state, are not far behind. The towns were working on 3,000 outages, and the co-ops had 3,300 as of Thursday.
The numbers don't include hundreds of homes and businesses that were severely damaged or destroyed by the storm and are not capable of being reconnected to the power grid.
Irene knocked out power to about 590,000 state homes and businesses over the weekend, and thousands more lost power from thunderstorms overnight Monday.
The state has requested that 20 counties be made eligible for federal assistance, which would allow local governments to seek financial help with debris removal and infrastructure repairs.