The first official assessments of North Carolina’s losses in the wake of Hurricane Matthew were released on Monday, October 17, even as floodwaters still inundated much of the southeastern portion of the state. The storm that killed 25 in North Carolina is now estimated to have caused around $1.5 billion in damage to 100,000 homes, businesses, and government buildings.Officials stressed that the assessment is preliminary; John Dorman, an assistant state emergency management director, expected the number could grow as many costs are not included in this first assessment. The costs of repairing public infrastructure such as roads and bridges has yet to be assessed. The assessment also does not cover lost belongings, nor does it account for lost economic output – possibly the largest cost of the storm – which Moody’s Analytics estimated to be between $4 billion and $5 billion as of October 10.
All rivers in North Carolina are expected to recede below flood stages by October 24, with pumps across counties working to drain millions of gallons of water per hour. However, 2,521 people were still without power the morning of October 18, and about 2,179 remained in emergency shelters. Following a tour of the hardest hit areas, Governor Pat McCrory said the “poorest of the poor” had suffered most from the flooding, and issued a plea for others to help them recover. The state has activated the NC Disaster Relief Fund, and is also working with the Red Cross and Salvation Army to coordinate donations.
But it is not just infrastructure and people that Hurricane Matthew has affected; even now the remaining floodwaters threaten to cause significant environmental impacts. North Carolina’s extensive livestock industry produces a large amount of animal waste, which is contained in lagoons surrounded by high earthen mounds called berms. Though the state has not recorded any breaches of these lagoons, the Waterkeepers Alliance, an advocacy group, alleged that more than a dozen lagoons were overtopped, sending diluted waste streaming out of the lagoons with the floodwaters.
After Hurricane Floyd hit the area in 1999, causing a large number of lagoons to breach and sending contaminated water downstream, the state instituted a number of changes, including limiting the size of farms and buying out farms in flood plains. However, some claim that enforcement was relatively lax, and loopholes allowed many facilities to remain open. In 1999, contaminated floodwaters elevated nitrogen and phosphorous levels in soil downstream, caused algae blooms, and killed aquatic life. It is unclear how extensive the environmental effects from Hurricane Matthew will be.
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