As had been expected, Hurricane Florence made landfall near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina at 7:15 am ET. on September 14, 2018. While downgraded to a Category 1, with sustained winds of 90 mph, the storm still packed a powerful punch, causing widespread flooding, destroying several structures and knocking out power to over 900,000 homes. While that was bad enough, what made things worse was Florence’s languid, six kph pace, which caused the storm to linger close to the coastline. Armed with an unlimited supply of water vapor from the warm Atlantic Ocean, it dumped a record 23 inches of rain in South Carolina and 35 inches in North Carolina over the course of just four days. While Florence, now a tropical depression, has moved on, the trillions of gallons of rainwater that is making its way into rivers and streams is resulting in flooding of epic proportions.
Many of the over 8,000 North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia residents forced to evacuate, are still living in Red Cross shelters or with family and friends. Some are waiting for the water levels to recede, while others are unable to return home either because the roads remain closed or because they have no means of transport to get there. Some of the streets in Kinston, North Carolina are so flooded that the National Guard is using helicopters to distribute water to stranded residents. While North Carolina farmers managed to escape, their animals were not as lucky. Despite moving them to higher ground before the storm hit, an estimated 3.4 million poultry birds and 5,500 pigs are believed to have drowned. In South Carolina, the flooding has damaged cotton, peanut, and hemp crops.
And the danger is far from over. About a dozen rivers in North and South Carolina have overflowed their banks. Particularly concerning is the continued swelling of the 140-mile-long Waccamaw River, which runs through both states. North Carolina officials have asked residents living along the river, especially those in Brunswick County, to evacuate and move to safer grounds.
When the water eventually recedes, North Carolina residents will have to not only deal with the usual clean-up challenges but also added health-risks caused by its key industries: pig farming and coal power generation.
Home to nine million pigs, North Carolina, is known for its hog “lagoons” – human-made pits or dugouts – that store animal waste and allow it to decompose to reduce pollution. On September 18, the state’s Department of Environmental Quality reported that four of the “lagoons” had been breached, allowing manure to escape, 13 others had overflowed their banks due to the rainwater, and nine more had been inundated by flooding from nearby streams. Though it is still unclear how much of the waste is in the storm water, even a small exposure to feces, which contains bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella, can pose significant health issues to the residents.
Then there is the danger of coal ash polluting the water supply as well. The industrial waste, generated by coal-burning power plants, contains heavy metals, including arsenic, lead, and mercury, which carry health risks. Similar to hog waste, the ash is collected in landfills close to the energy plants. On September 20, 2018, power plant operator Duke Energy reported that about 2,000 cubic yards of the harmful waste had been displaced from one of the landfills. Though company spokesperson Erin Culbert asserts, "We don't have any indication that the ash has gone to the cooling pond,” he has promised to continue monitoring the situation.
While the road to recovery will be long, Americans are doing everything they can to help the affected residents. In addition to President Trump’s promise of full federal support to help pay for the estimated $22 billion of damage caused by the hurricane, people nationwide are sending in donations to the nonprofit agencies assisting the storm’s victims. On September 18, 2018, six-time NBA champion and Charlotte Hornets owner, Michael Jordan, who grew up playing basketball in Wilmington, North Carolina, donated $2 million to the cause. In addition, members of the Hornets organization are putting together 5,000 boxes for food banks in Charlotte, North Carolina. The team has also partnered with NBA merchandising company Fanatics to help raise funds with a special T-shirt, featuring the Hornets logo in the middle of the Carolinas states with the words "Carolina Strong” around it.
Resources: CNN.com, Vox,com, NPR.org, Wikipedia.org