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No Break For North Carolina

A sign put up by the owners of a washed-out store in the heart of flood-ravaged eastern North Carolina reads: "We'll be back."

The message in the window at Rusty's Gift Shop could just as easily refer to the rain that keeps coming back to torment weary residents and businesses.

The Tar River crested at three feet above flood stage Wednesday after runoff from Hurricane Irene's rains couldn't be contained. It was the fourth time in two months.

"We'll survive," said Mary Jefferson, who was shopping for groceries in Tarboro, 60 miles east of Raleigh. "We always have and we always will."

As the Tar's brown waters began to drop, rain fell again from the dirty chalkboard sky, with accumulations of more than an inch reported in some counties. Clearing skies were forecast for Thursday.

"I'm tired of seeing water," said Rachel House, a legal secretary in Tarboro whose office was inundated last month. She said she remained unconvinced the river's cresting necessarily signaled better times.

It has been a wet two months in North Carolina. Hurricane Dennis dumped eight inches of rain in early September. Floyd's epic, 20-inch rainfall was next on Sept. 16, followed less than two weeks later by a tropical storm that poured eight inches. Irene dumped up to six inches of rain.

During the height of Floyd's flooding, the Tar swelled to 43 feet, flooding most of east Tarboro and swallowing Princeville under 20-foot floods. That town remains uninhabitable.

The Neuse and the Cape Fear rivers have also built toward crests in the Irene's wake, but like the Tar, neither was expected to cause serious flooding.

Many area residents now are worried about Hurricane Jose churning in the Atlantic. "We just need to keep an eye on Jose and see where he's going and get a chance to catch our breath a bit," said Thomas Rowe, an emergency services specialist.

There may not be much time for that if Jose, now terrorizing the Eastern Caribbean, brings more rain. Forecasters, uncertain of its path, were hoping a cold front would deflect it north before it reached the U.S. mainland.

President Clinton signed into law Wednesday a $99.5 billion spending bill that pumps $2.5 billion into the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Disaster Relief Fund.

The bulk of the money has been earmarked for eastern North Carolina for temporary housing, home repair, debris removal and replacement of cars and other possessions.

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