Devastating Hurricane Florence
by Stephen Lendman
US coastal areas are deplorably unprepared for the worst of hurricane force wind, heavy flooding, and toxic stew aftermath from overflowing industrial waste, coal ash, and hog waste pits in the Carolinas – contaminating waterways and inundated homes with bacteria, viruses, heavy metals, and other harmful substances.
The worst of Hurricane Florence lies ahead – involving the enormous cleanup and reconstruction costs, along with the devastating effects on human health.
Countless thousands of homes were severely damaged. Water levels are still rising. Rivers haven’t crested. Rainfall in North Carolina was unprecedented, over 30 inches, in some areas more, 35 regional deaths so far reported.
According to major media, only 10 – 20% of North Carolina coastal area homeowners have National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) coverage – only an estimated 1 – 3% in inland areas.
Milliman consultants actuary John Rollins explained that around 3% of all North Carolina home owners have flood insurance, 8% in South Carolina. Basic homeowners coverage doesn’t include it.
Estimates of hurricane flood damage from range widely from $5 to $20 billion – the toll perhaps much greater when later assessments are made after flood waters crest and begin receding, a process to take some time.
According to Weather Underground’s Bob Henson, “mammoth amounts of rain…in southern North Carolina are virtually certain to eclipse anything measured in an east coast tropical cyclone north of Florida.”
Countless thousands of homes, roads, and entire communities across North Carolina and parts of South Carolina are flooded.
Along with widespread toxic contamination, North Carolina superfund sites, chemical, and nuclear power plants are threatened, according to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality.
Nearly a million regional residents lost power. Large-scale industrial hog farms located in the path of the storm generate about 200 million gallons of toxic waste annually, most of them submerged, according to Waterkeeper Alliance’s Will Hendrick, adding:
“It’s way too easy to predicate that this is going to happen when you continue to store tremendous volumes of waste in facilities that are located in the 100-year floodplain and that are…in the coastal plain, where they’re likely to bear the brunt of these increasingly frequent and severe weather events.”
Marine Sciences Professor Michael Mallin explained that most reports may way understate the extent of storm damage. Widespread contamination can occur without overflowing by lagoons, rivers, and other waterways.
Torrential Florence rainfall spread contaminants into wells, creeks, and rivers where bacteria, viruses, and other toxins can survive in sediment for months, creating a serious health hazard for residents in affected areas.
North Carolina is one of the nation’s largest pork producing states, the industry largely unregulated. Counties with facilities have 25-fold more hogs than people, resulting in enormous amounts of toxic waste – nationwide amounting to over a million tons annually, including feces, urine, blood, and rotting body parts.
North Carolina hog farms produce about 10 billion pounds of waste annually, deposited in thousands of lagoons throughout the state.
In an earlier report titled “Boss Hog: The Dark Side of America’s Top Pork Producer” – Smithfield Foods, Rolling Stone said the company “churns out a sea of waste that…destroyed rivers (and) killed millions of fish.”
On September 14, a Pacific Standard report headlined “North Carolina’s Hog Waste Problem Has a Long History,” asking: “Why Wasn’t It Solved in Time for Hurricane Florence,” adding:
“With millions of hogs comes a lot of waste. In these giant operations, feces, urine, and anything else that seeps beneath pens’ slatted floors — stillborn pigs, afterbirths, pesticides, blood — form a liquid slurry, which is then pumped into open-earth pits, known in the industry as lagoons. Smithfield’s lagoons cover 120,000 square feet and run 30 feet deep.”
Facilities are dangerously close to the low coastal plain. Large pools contain extremely hazardous toxic waste. Contaminated soil and groundwater threaten human health and well-being.
Public Health Professor Sacoby Wilson said “(y)ou basically have a toxic soup for people who live in close proximity to those lagoons.”
“All of these contaminants that are in the hog lagoons, like salmonella, giardia, and E-coli, can get into the waterways and infect people trying to get out.”
Law Professor Michelle Nowlin “question(ed) the wisdom of having a disposal method that is so vulnerable to the types of weather events that we have in this region, with potentially catastrophic effects.”
Besides hog waste, millions of gallons of partially treated sewage spilled into Cape Fear River when a generator at Wilmington’s wastewater treatment plant failed. Anything above 1,000 gallons is considered hazardous to human health.
On Monday, EPA director of land and emergency management Reggie Cheatham said another sewage treatment plant in Jackson, North Carolina experienced a “catastrophic failure” over the weekend.
According to other reports, raw sewage is leaking from manholes into residential communities. Historic flooding will continue for days across portions of North and South Carolina.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Florence when residents return to homes, they’ll have to deal with “a sludge of all different kinds of chemical and microbial contaminants, Public Health Professor Sacoby Wilson explained.
The worst of Hurricane Florence is yet to come, countless thousands of residents and communities in harm’s way affected.
Rebuilding costs will be enormous, hundreds of thousands of home owners without flood insurance hard-pressed to afford them.
Federal disaster aid will largely go for infrastructure rebuilding, helping affected industries, and the Small Business Administration Disaster Loan Program – home owners without flood insurance on their own.
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