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Florence could flood hog manure pits, coal ash dumps

FILE – In this Sept. 24, 1999, file photo, employees of Murphy family farms together with friends and neighbors, float a group of dead pig down a flooded road about rabon Maready the farm in the near Beulaville, N. C. The pigs drowned from the waters of the NE Cape Fear River after the heavy rains from Hurricane Floyd flooded the area. The heavy rain expected from Hurricane Florence could flood hog manure pits, coal ash landfill and other industrial sites in North Carolina, creating a harmful witches’ brew of waste that may wash into the houses, and threaten the drinking water supply. (AP Photo/Alan Marler, File)

Hurricane Florence heavy rainfall can lead to an ecological disaster in North Carolina, where the waste from hog manure pits, coal ash landfill and other industrial sites could wash into homes and threaten the drinking water supply.

Computer models predict more than 3 metres of rain in the eastern part of the state, a fertile low-lying plains, interspersed with brackish rivers, with a tendency to escape their banks. Locals do not have to strain their imagination to predict what rain, such as that you can do that. It has happened before.

In September 1999, Hurricane Floyd came ashore near Cape Fear as a Category 2 storm that dumped about 2 feet of water on a region already soaked days earlier by Hurricane Dennis. The result was the worst natural disaster in history, a flood that killed dozens of people and whole cities under water, residents stranded on roofs.

The bloated carcasses of hundreds of thousands of pigs, chickens and other drowned cattle went into a nose-stinging nettle soup of fecal matter, pesticides, fertilizer and fuel so toxic that the fish flopped helplessly on the surface to escape it. Rescue workers rubbed Vick’s Vapo-Rub under their nose to try to numb their senses against the stench.

Florence is forecast to make landfall in the same region as a much stronger storm.

“This is pretty scary,” said Jamie Kruse, director of the Center for Natural Hazards Research at East Carolina University. “The environmental effects will be from concentrated animal feeding operations, and coal ash pits. Until the system is rinsed, there will be a lot of junk in the water.”

North Carolina has approximately 2100 industrial scale pork farms with more than 9 million pigs — mostly located in the long metal sheds with grated floors designed to the animals’ urine and feces to fall and the flow in the nearby open-air pits containing millions of gallons of untreated sewage.

During Floyd, dozens of these lagoons either breached or were overtopped by water, spillage of the contents. The taxpayer is finally out to buy, and the closing of 43 farms located in the floodplain.

In order to prepare for Florence, the North Carolina Pork Council says that its members have pumped down lagoon levels to catch at least 2 metres from the rain. Low-lying farms are moving the pigs to higher ground.

“Our farmers and others in the pork industry are working together to take precautions to protect our farms, our animals and our environment,” said Brandon Warren, pork board president and a hog farmer. “The preparations for a hurricane began long before the last few hours or days. Our farmers take hurricane threats very seriously.”

The Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday that the monitoring of nine toxic waste cleanup sites near the Carolinas coast for possible flooding. More than a dozen such Superfund sites in and around Houston flooded last year in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, the spills of potentially hazardous materials, reported on two.

Also of interest are more than two dozen huge coal ash pits operated by Duke Energy, the state of the primary electricity provider. The gray ash that remains after combustion of coal that contains potentially harmful amounts of mercury, arsenic and lead.

Since power plants need huge amounts of water to generate steam, their unlined waste pits are located along lakes and rivers. Some of the pits were flooded during the recent storms, including during Floyd and Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

After 2014 spill at a Duke plant coated 70 miles of River in toxic gray sludge, state regulators forced the Charlotte-based company to begin phasing out coal ash pits by 2029. Because that work was already underway, the water levels within the ash ponds are falling, Duke Energy spokesman Bill Norton said Tuesday.

“We are better prepared than ever,” said Norton, adding that the crew will be monitoring the water levels in the pits during the storm.

The company is also preparing for a possible shutdown of nuclear reactors for at least two hours prior to the arrival of hurricane-force winds. Duke operates 11 reactors at six locations in the Carolinas, including the Brunswick nuclear plant located south of Wilmington near the mouth of the Cape Fear River.

The Brunswick plant’s two reactors are the same design as those in Fukushima, Japan, that exploded and leaked radiation in 2011 after an earthquake and tsunami. After the disaster, federal regulators required all US nuclear plants to perform upgrades to better withstand earthquakes and floods.

Duke Energy has not responded to requests for information about specific changes in Brunswick, other than to say emergency generators and pumps will remove water in the factory as it floods. The company issued guarantees of this week that he is ready for Florence, which is expected to pack winds of up to 140 km per hour, and a 13-foot storm surge.

“They were safe. They are even safer now,” said Kathryn Green, a Duke spokeswoman, referring to the post-Fukushima improvements. “We have back-ups of back-ups for back-ups.”

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Associated Press writers Seth Borenstein in Washington and Alex Derosier in Raleigh, North Carolina, contributed to this report.

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Follow AP investigative reporter Michael Biesecker at http://twitter.com/mbieseck .

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For the latest news on Hurricane Florence, visit https://www.apnews.com/tag/Hurricanes .

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