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Hurricane Matthew: An Opportunity to Reflect on Hurricane Floyd

When Hurricane Floyd hit North Carolina in 1999, the news was filled with pictures of pigs on rooftops, pigs swimming, pigs dying or dead. This is because North Carolina produces a large portion of the nation’s hogs.

Those pictures were coupled with images of waste lagoons that had been breached—and images of rivers turning purple from the pathogenic waste seeping into them. Perhaps I remember all of this more sharply than a lot of folks in our work because I lived in North Carolina. School was cancelled the day the storm made landfall, even though I lived closer to the mountains than the coast. Where I lived, the weather was gorgeous that day.

In the following days, the coverage was all over the news, especially as the waters began to recede and the economic devastation to the hog and poultry industries was fully revealed.

Perhaps it’s for this reason that I’m curiously watching the coverage of Hurricane Matthew—and spotting familiar places in the pictures taken of flooded towns. Sure, I now live in a different state, halfway across the country, but it has seemed like it hasn’t gotten as much coverage (to say nothing of the devastation it wreaked on Haiti). Waste lagoons were still breached (or covered) and now that the water is beginning to recede, it’s reasonable to assume that the impacts of Hurricane Matthew will be similar to that of Floyd, and include:

  • Economic devastation, especially to those tied to the hog and poultry industries;
  • A dead zone off the coast of North Carolina;
  • Severe impairment to the waterways that breached lagoons;
  • Massive waste cleanup of the bodies of animals trapped in the rising floodwaters; and
  • Destruction of property and infrastructure.

As someone working with a bunch of ecologists and designers, I wonder how the parts of North Carolina impacted by the storm will be restored. I wonder how intentional ecological design might help provide resiliency and provide great protection against the next storm, and the one after that, and the one after that. I think about how some of these towns are the same that were devastated by Floyd, and some never received the necessary federal funds to help protect them from future storms.

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The US clean-up effort for Hurricane Matthew, which was listed as a Category 1 hurricane when it made landfall in the US, will necessarily be both extensive and expensive. Despite its low categorical ranking as a storm, it produced record amounts of rainfall in eastern North Carolina—and unlike some other hurricanes that have devastated the coast of North Carolina, it didn’t even move inland.

Haiti, of course, is faced with a host of storm-related problems as well.

As environmental professionals, we must consider the implications not only of coastal management on these types of storms, but inland as well.

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