This is Hurricane Florence's projected path

Hurricane Florence approaches the Carolinas as a Category 1 hurricane threatening high storm surge, heavy rain and strong winds.

Posted: Sep 15, 2018 12:42 AM
Updated: Sep 15, 2018 1:05 AM

As Hurricane Florence brings trillions of gallons of water ashore, the storm is headed straight for some of the largest concentrations of hog farms in the county. And there's no getting around it: with those pigs, comes a lot of, er ... wet waste.

Most of that excrement sits in open-air pits, known as "lagoons," which blanket the landscape of North Carolina just inland from the coast. If flooding causes those pits to overflow or fail entirely, huge swaths of land could be contaminated with feces-laced water.

The plentiful waste pits are one of a number of environmental hazards in the path of Florence, including Superfund sites, coal plants and chemical factories.

A 2016 study by the Environmental Working Group and Waterkeeper Alliance identified more than 4,000 animal waste pits in North Carolina where pig and chicken excrement is collected.

Kemp Burdette, with Cape Fear River Watch, said the runoff from animal waste is at the top of his list of concerns.

"When you have a swine lagoon breech, it is going to have catastrophic impact on the river," Burdette said. "We are going to see serious water quality problems."

Other hazardous locations

Meanwhile, Superfund sites -- polluted areas mandated for cleanup by the Environmental Protection Agency -- dot the landscape of not just North Carolina but its neighbors as well.

The EPA has already designated at least nine locations it is particularly concerned with and said it will monitor them throughout the storm and its aftermath for signs of trouble.

Agency spokesman John Konkus said regional staff have been conducting response planning, and the EPA is prepared to assist state environmental agencies as well.

Other sites such as chemical factories, coal power plants (where coal ash poses health risks) and even nuclear power facilities also sit along Florence's projected track.

Officials have said they are taking precautions to protect sensitive sites. Duke Energy owns six nuclear plants in the hurricane's path, and a spokesman told Reuters the Brunswick plant near Wilmington would be temporarily shut before the hurricane hit.

Federal officials have also identified at least five dams they are focusing on for the danger they would pose if they failed.

The US Army Corps of Engineers said it is monitoring two North Carolina dams -- in Wake Forest and Cary -- as well as three additional ones in Virginia.

Altogether there are nearly three thousand dams of various sizes in Virginia, nearly 3,500 in North Carolina and about 2,500 in South Carolina.

The danger of chemicals escaping in a storm is real: after Hurricane Harvey last year, the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas released a toxic cloud into the nearby community after being flooded and losing power, resulting in hundreds of evacuations. The company and its executives later faced criminal charges.

Runoff likely despite efforts

But it may not even be possible to safeguard the animal waste.

Roughly 10 billion gallons of wet animal waste is produced annually in North Carolina, That's enough to fill 15,000 Olympic-size swimming pools. And Florence's floodwaters are coming for some of it.

Some farmers have tried to reduce the waste in their lagoons by pumping some of it out and spraying it on their fields. But even that is unlikely to help much in a severe flood.

Soren Rundquist, Environmental Working Group's director of spatial analysis, said if the rainfall projections hold up, the flood waters will simply take what was sprayed on the fields with them, along with what spills out of the pits.

"Everything that's been sprayed on the fields is going to leave with the runoff anyway," Rundquist said. "So pumping might move it from over here to over there, but it doesn't have a practical effect."

Meanwhile, down by Cape Fear, Burdette, who goes by the moniker "Riverkeeper," said he was "bracing for catastrophic impact" in the wake of Florence.

He said the region could see long-term damage to its water quality from the animal waste that gets caught up in the flood. What's more he said, there are the animals themselves: possibly thousands of dead pigs and chickens that could wind up washed into the river, bringing with them further contamination.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 296154

Reported Deaths: 6764
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto19700230
Hinds18851392
Harrison16736281
Rankin12757265
Jackson12623228
Lee9694161
Madison9480203
Jones7990147
Forrest7234138
Lauderdale6837226
Lowndes6032140
Lamar589680
Lafayette5740113
Washington5220130
Bolivar4616124
Oktibbeha441593
Panola431995
Pearl River4178131
Warren4134115
Pontotoc410571
Marshall403592
Monroe3990127
Union396174
Neshoba3817169
Lincoln3552104
Hancock348975
Leflore3380118
Sunflower318986
Tate303174
Pike301296
Scott294570
Alcorn292263
Yazoo290565
Itawamba290175
Coahoma281169
Tippah279265
Copiah278758
Simpson276280
Prentiss270258
Wayne254341
Leake252871
Marion252778
Covington249580
Grenada247878
Adams234678
George232145
Newton230852
Winston221877
Jasper213645
Tishomingo212665
Attala206669
Chickasaw201453
Holmes182370
Clay179251
Stone172429
Tallahatchie171239
Clarke169371
Calhoun158028
Smith153033
Yalobusha145036
Greene127833
Walthall124340
Noxubee122831
Montgomery122639
Perry122135
Lawrence120321
Carroll118625
Amite111734
Webster110832
Jefferson Davis102231
Tunica99323
Claiborne98829
Benton93824
Humphreys92927
Kemper90323
Quitman77414
Franklin76119
Choctaw69817
Jefferson62727
Wilkinson62426
Sharkey49117
Issaquena1676
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 497154

Reported Deaths: 10029
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson714001387
Mobile36252736
Madison32573462
Tuscaloosa24289414
Montgomery22708519
Shelby22112215
Baldwin19856285
Lee15021155
Calhoun13755288
Morgan13742252
Etowah13379320
Marshall11439210
Houston10110262
Elmore9451185
Limestone9413136
St. Clair9003225
Cullman8979182
Lauderdale8610212
DeKalb8486175
Talladega7582165
Walker6571259
Jackson6542103
Autauga631391
Blount6229127
Colbert5998120
Coffee5259103
Dale4657107
Russell406433
Franklin399778
Covington3989106
Chilton3891100
Escambia378772
Tallapoosa3613143
Clarke343953
Chambers3423111
Dallas3419142
Pike293372
Marion288895
Lawrence284683
Winston258668
Bibb245960
Geneva240270
Marengo238357
Pickens225055
Barbour212951
Hale211969
Fayette201357
Butler201166
Henry182941
Cherokee177739
Monroe166639
Randolph164640
Washington156635
Macon147243
Crenshaw146254
Clay145554
Cleburne139741
Lamar133733
Lowndes132551
Wilcox122525
Bullock117236
Conecuh107024
Perry105927
Sumter99432
Coosa89624
Greene88532
Choctaw55123
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Clear
44° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 36°
Feels Like: 40°
Columbus
Clear
46° wxIcon
Hi: 71° Lo: 36°
Feels Like: 46°
Oxford
Partly Cloudy
41° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 33°
Feels Like: 41°
Starkville
Clear
37° wxIcon
Hi: 71° Lo: 35°
Feels Like: 37°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather