"A Life Changing Event": 3 Million To Lose Power, Hog Farmers Panic As Hurricane Set To Smash Into Coast

With Hurricane Florence barreling down on North Carolina, local industries - especially hog farmers - are preparing for the worst. Meanwhile, millions are at risk of losing power as they brace for a historic weather event.

According to David Fountain, Duke Energy’s president for North Carolina, up to 3 million homes  and businesses are at risk of losing power as a result of the hurricane, which in a worst case scenario would come onshore at Wilmington, North Carolina and move through Raleigh, Greensboro and Charlotte.

Natural devastation aside, there is the crippling impact the storm will have on local businesses: one of the biggest industries in the storm's path is hog farming. Hundreds of farms are in the direct path of the hurricane and are scrambling to prepare for its impact by stockpiling feed and moving their livestock, according to this Wall Street Journal article. Preparations to manage millions of gallons of hog waste are also underway. 

The worst case scenario for North Carolina, with its 2,100 hog farms and 9 million pigs and hogs, would be to cripple the local hog farming industry. The potential devastation for hog farmers would be a deja vu to what happened after Hurricane Floyd struck in 1999. The result was the destruction of many farms, including flooding, dead livestock and waste leaking into waterways.  

Preparations for the worst have been aided by a dry summer which has, in turn, kept waste lagoon levels low. Power is also of the essence, because farmers are at risk of losing livestock if their barns can’t be ventilated.

Still, some are optimistic: the CEO of the North Carolina Pork Council, Andy Curliss, believes that farmers will be prepared this time around: "They’ll deal with what’s thrown at them,” he told the Wall Street Journal. 

Gaye Crowther owns a farm outside of Tabor City, N.C, and is getting ready by purchasing fuel for generators and actively managing her waste lagoons. She’s also filling feed bins with corn and soy beans in an amount that should give animals two weeks worth of food to eat. In addition to worrying about the livestock, she also has to worry about her 29 employees.

“It's stressful. You’ve got the people that work for you that need to be safe. You’ve got the hogs that you want to take care of.”

Another example is Goldsboro Milling from Goldsboro, N.C., which is also stockpiling feed. This is what the director of human resources told the WSJ:

 “We actually have a war room where we’ve got people from the production side and logistics so they can identify farms that are running low on feed.”

Smithfield Foods said that it is going out of its way to protect workers and animals at it’s 250 farms that it owns, as well as at the 1500 contract farms it has. Like the others, they are also monitoring and lowering waste levels.

The waste lagoons in North Carolina have often been a point of contention for environmentalists, as there are more than 4,000 of them in the state and they each often hold "millions of gallons" of manure. In 1999, six lagoons saw breaches, which resulted in waste moving into the water supply. The state ended up buying 43 farms, including 100 lagoons that were located in flood planes.

In 2016, the state saw a similar, but less disastrous outcome in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. There was a partial breach of one lagoon that hadn’t had hogs near it for years.

And here is the problem: Curliss told the WSJ that lagoons across the state can handle 25 inches of rain. But according to forecasts from the National Hurricane Center, 40 inches could be expected from Florence.

Independent surveyors will reportedly be out looking at farms over the next couple of days to measure what impact this hurricane will have. People like Will Hendrick, who is a staff attorney with the Waterkeeper Alliance, also went out and surveyed after events like Hurricane Matthew. Back then, he found that floodwaters in eight counties had infiltrated 10 hog farms and 14 lagoons that hold millions of gallons of waste.

Meanwhile, assuming they are not drinking pig shit, local residents may have bigger problems as they remain in the dark for weeks. Duke Energy said it was mobilizing about 20,000 workers to help with keeping power on during the storm. Mollie Gore, a spokeswoman for Santee-Cooper told Bloomberg that "it may take days" before line workers are able to start getting power restored, telling them “We can’t get a bucket truck out there when tropical storm winds are still blowing.”

Duke Energy's president told Bloomberg: "This is no ordinary storm, and people could be without power for a very long time -- not days but weeks. Hurricane Florence will be a life changing event for many people in the Carolinas."