Another victim of Hurricane Florence: farm animals.
Millions of animals left on farms in North Carolina during the record-breaking rainfall have drowned in the flooding. As of Tuesday (Sept. 18), the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which has been counting livestock deaths in the field, says 3.4 million chickens and turkeys have died so far, along with 5,500 pigs.
“These numbers could change based on further recovery efforts,” the department said in a statement.
Sanderson Farms, one of the biggest poultry companies in the state, said about 30 of the independent farms it contracts to supply its chickens were isolated by flood waters as of Monday (Sept 17). Each farm houses approximately 211,000 chickens.
“Losses of live inventory could escalate if the Company does not regain access to those farms,” a Sanderson spokesperson wrote in a statement. An additional 64 chicken barns on various farms under Sanderson contract have already flooded, leaving 1.7 million chickens dead. Those chickens were included in the state agriculture department’s count.
North Carolina is the second-largest pork producer in the US, trailing only Iowa, and one of the largest poultry producers in the country. By the state’s count, there are 9.3 million hogs, 819 million chickens, and 33.5 million turkeys housed on farms in North Carolina. Between 65 and 70 million chickens are slaughtered in the state in an average month, along with roughly 2 million turkeys, according to US Department of Agriculture numbers from 2017.
Livestock deaths in North Carolina due to Hurricane Florence already exceed those caused by Hurricane Matthew in 2016. In Hurricane Floyd, which hit the state in 1999, losses ended up totalling 21,000 hogs and about 1 million poultry birds.
Meanwhile, 13 hog manure lagoons are overflowing from rainfall, another 55 are close to overtopping their walls and, and an additional four lagoons have suffered structural damage. Hog manure running into flood waters poses a substantial public health risk, according to experts.
“You basically have a toxic soup for people who live in close proximity to those lagoons,” Sacoby Wilson, a professor of public health at the University of Maryland, told Vice News. “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.”
The US Centers for Disease Control warned parents to prevent their children from making contact with the floodwaters, which may carry infectious diseases and raw sewage.