By Jim Brumm
WILMINGTON, North Carolina (Reuters) - Communities along the Atlantic coast and inland grappled on Monday with the lingering effects of Hurricane Irene, with flooding, storm debris and road closures dimming Labor Day holiday weekend tourism prospects for some.
Mandatory evacuations remained in effect for parts of eastern North Carolina, where nearly 300,000 still were without power and dozens of roads were closed or impassable due to downed trees and power lines, according to the governor's office.
Flooding posed a threat to inland counties that had received up to 15 inches of rain, state officials said. Homes and other structures along the Northeast Cape Fear and Tar rivers are at risk.
"Flooding remains a serious concern for a number of areas down east," said Governor Beverly Perdue, who on Monday toured storm-damaged areas and requested a federal disaster declaration for seven coastal counties.
Crews worked to remove hundreds of tires that washed onto Atlantic Beach over the weekend. The state once constructed artificial reefs for fish using tires, which sometimes are loosened during storms and pushed ashore.
Moderate flooding is expected in Virginia on Tuesday when the Nansemond and Blackwater rivers crest, officials said.
The state had its worst storm damage in Richmond and other inland locales rather than on the coast. About 550,000 customers remained without power on Monday, down from 1.1 million customers who lost power in the second-largest outage in Virginia history, Governor Bob McDonnell told reporters.
He said he saw a lot of downed trees, flooded roads and some damaged piers during an aerial tour on Monday over Virginia Beach, where winds peaked at 69 mph, and surrounding areas.
But state officials had a positive outlook about the upcoming holiday weekend.
"We have had some minor beach erosion ... but the beaches actually opened yesterday and the water quality is back to where it was," said Virginia Beach Fire Department spokesman Tim Riley.
"All the hotels are open, and we're planning for a big Labor Day."
Officials in the resort town of Ocean City, Maryland, reopened the city and beach to the public on Sunday and lifted all restrictions on swimming as of Monday afternoon.
The eye of Hurricane Irene passed within 50 miles of Ocean City in the early hours of Sunday, according to its government site. The popular coastal spot, evacuated in advance of the storm, suffered localized flooding as Irene dumped 12 inches of rain and winds reached 80 mph.
"If you had plans to come to Ocean City 'Come on Down,'" Mayor Rick Meehan tweeted on Sunday. "If you haven't made plans now is the time! Looks like a great Labor Day Weekend ahead!"
(Additional reporting by Molly O'Toole in Washington and Matthew A. Ward in Chesapeake, Va.; Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Jerry Norton)