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: 312712

Reported Deaths: 7223
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto21445257
Hinds20264414
Harrison17785308
Rankin13548278
Jackson13401246
Madison10055217
Lee9959173
Jones8361163
Forrest7638152
Lauderdale7191240
Lowndes6361144
Lamar620686
Lafayette6164118
Washington5318133
Bolivar4796132
Oktibbeha460698
Panola4550105
Pearl River4493145
Marshall4393103
Warren4371121
Pontotoc419372
Monroe4089133
Union408876
Neshoba4022176
Lincoln3944110
Hancock376886
Leflore3487125
Sunflower335590
Tate332084
Pike3290105
Scott314973
Alcorn311268
Yazoo310269
Itawamba299277
Copiah296065
Coahoma293979
Simpson293888
Tippah287468
Prentiss278960
Marion268780
Leake265573
Wayne262241
Adams261882
Grenada260085
Covington256281
George246748
Newton246161
Winston226881
Tishomingo225467
Jasper220748
Attala214173
Chickasaw206957
Holmes188672
Clay184654
Stone181833
Clarke177879
Tallahatchie177840
Calhoun169732
Yalobusha162936
Smith162134
Walthall133845
Greene130333
Lawrence128323
Montgomery126742
Noxubee126734
Perry125838
Amite122842
Carroll121728
Webster114532
Jefferson Davis106932
Tunica104626
Claiborne102230
Benton99025
Humphreys96133
Kemper95328
Franklin83423
Quitman79916
Choctaw76018
Wilkinson66830
Jefferson65428
Sharkey50217
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 529446

Reported Deaths: 10930
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson763031516
Mobile40850804
Madison34622501
Tuscaloosa25701451
Montgomery24289585
Shelby23367247
Baldwin21035307
Lee15822169
Calhoun14469313
Morgan14266279
Etowah13806352
Marshall12185222
Houston10533280
Elmore10029205
Limestone9948150
Cullman9640193
St. Clair9589239
Lauderdale9407239
DeKalb8814185
Talladega8199175
Walker7214277
Autauga6914108
Jackson6801111
Blount6635136
Colbert6288134
Coffee5498117
Dale4820111
Russell438438
Chilton4258111
Franklin424782
Covington4111117
Tallapoosa4004150
Escambia393076
Chambers3555123
Dallas3543151
Clarke350661
Marion3105100
Pike310177
Lawrence299798
Winston273672
Bibb260463
Marengo249064
Geneva247676
Pickens233659
Barbour230756
Hale222276
Butler215869
Fayette212062
Henry188744
Cherokee184145
Randolph179241
Monroe177040
Washington167039
Macon158850
Clay155156
Crenshaw151957
Cleburne148341
Lamar141534
Lowndes138553
Wilcox126729
Bullock122941
Conecuh110129
Perry107526
Coosa106928
Sumter104332
Greene92334
Choctaw60424
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We can expect plentiful sunshine Thursday with nice, warm temperatures. But going into the late afternoon and early evening, a brief disturbance could bring a quick round of showers and perhaps a thunderstorm through the area.
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