RALEIGH, North Carolina, September 20, 2018 (ENS) – Across the Carolinas, many communities are lifting evacuation orders and cleaning up following last week’s Hurricane Florence, but North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper is warning that major flooding is still occurring on many of the state’s rivers, including the Lumber, Cape Fear, Neuse and Trent.

“People in flood prone areas or near waterways need to remain alert as rivers crest and stay above their banks in coming days,” Governor Cooper said. “Stay alert, and stay safe.”

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Storm responders must travel by water as flooded cars can’t run on inundated roads, Sept. 20, 208 (Photo courtesy Duke Energy)

Flooding is still affecting residents of Bladen, Craven, Cumberland, Greene, Robeson, Columbus, Wayne, Lenoir, Pender, Duplin and Jones counties, said Cooper.

The flooding is expected to persist for several weeks. North Carolina residents can view flooding and inundation maps at: https://fiman.nc.gov/fiman/.

Florence has claimed the lives of 27 people in North Carolina to date. First responders have rescued and evacuated more than 3,000 people and more than 900 pets from flooded areas so far, and the rescues are ongoing.

The number of shelters in operation and power outages continue to decline. About 7,800 residents are being sheltered in 80 locations.

Duke Energy crews today continued to restore power to North Carolina and South Carolina customers impacted by Hurricane Florence. Crews have restored power to 1.6 million customers out of nearly 1.7 million total outages during the storm.

Still, today 114,000 customers, most of them in North Carolina, remain without power.

“We know that we’re a state that is hurting. But one thing I know is that North Carolinians are strong. North Carolinians are resilient. People that I’ve been talking today are helping each other. Our local, state and federal partners are pulling together and working in a coordinated way to make sure we help people,” said Governor Cooper.

“And, neighbors are helping neighbors. Communities of faith are stepping up. I talked to one woman whose house had been destroyed – she was out serving meals to other people. That is the spirit of North Carolina. And that is the spirit that I am witnessing across this state,” the governor said.

Roads in many areas of southeastern North Carolina remain dangerous, and motorists may encounter impassable roads nearly a week after the storm hit the coast. To help plot a safe route, people can use the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s DriveNC.gov website or the ReadyNC app for updates on road conditions and other information.

In the hard-hit areas around Wilmington, Fayetteville and Lumberton, highways and secondary routes remain closed Wednesday due to floodwaters and debris. Identifying a safe, reliable highway into Wilmington not at risk of flooding continues to be a challenge until floodwaters subside.

Statewide, the number of road closures stood at 800 at mid-day Wednesday – down from almost 1,600 on Monday.

Much of Interstate 95 between Lumberton and Benson is closed, and so are portions of Interstate 40 in Duplin and Pender counties north of Wilmington.

Contaminated Water a Rising Risk

North Carolina raises about 8.9 million pigs on 2,100 farms, according to the North Carolina Pork Council, which says a “small percentage” of the thousands of lagoons where hog waste is treated were damaged by the storm and are releasing waste into the environment.

“Twenty-one lagoons were inundated by flood waters. Seventeen lagoons were at capacity due to rainfall and appear to have overtopped. Others are at capacity and efforts are being taken to respond within state regulations and guidance,” said the Council.

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Hog waste streams from a flooded pig farm in North Carolina, Sept. 18, 2018 (Photo by Waterkeeper Alliance)

The State Department of Environmental Quality is reporting five sites with possible structural damages, three of which have been breached. Two of the lagoons lost only liquids and the solids remain.

The Council said, “Our farmers took extraordinary measures in advance of this storm, including moving thousands of animals out of harm’s way as the hurricane approached.”

“While we are dismayed by the release of some liquids from some lagoons,” said the Council, “we also understand that what has been released from the farms is the result of a once-in-a-lifetime storm and that the contents are highly diluted with rainwater.”

Cape Fear Riverkeeper Kemp Burdette discovered two breached hog lagoons, with their contents completely emptied, and dozens of inundated lagoons across the Cape Fear River Basin.

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Tanker trucks are lined up to remove liquids from a hog waste lagoon in Sampson County, Sept 19, 2018 (Photo courtesy North Carolina Pork Council)

“These cesspools of hog waste failed completely, spilling millions of gallons of untreated hog waste into floodwaters,” said Burdette. “Even worse, these contaminated waters will flow through communities downstream, threatening homes, churches, schools, and anything else in their path.”

Over three million farm animals – pigs, chickens and turkeys among them – have died due to the storm, and an undetermined number of these carcasses are contaminating the floodwaters.

Clean water activists with nonprofit organizations, including the Waterkeeper Alliance, discovered multiple releases of coal ash from inundated ponds at Duke Energy’s H.F. Lee coal-fired power plant near Goldsboro, North Carolina. The water samples they took are expected to be analyzed within the week.

“Today we investigated, documented and collected water samples from multiple ongoing, active coal ash spills from HF Lee facility where 1 million tons of coal ash is now completely underwater. Half-mile Branch creek and the Neuse River flood waters are actively eroding the dam between the ponds and all three ponds are washing coal ash into the Neuse River,” said Donna Lisenby, Global Advocacy Manager for Waterkeeper Alliance.

“Coal ash will continue spilling every minute of every day from the HF Lee coal ash ponds until flood waters recede sometime later this week,” Lisenby warned.

“The Neuse River is experiencing an ongoing coal ash spill. This not just an environmental concern, it is a concern for downstream communities as well, including Goldsboro which has a water intake less than 10 miles downstream,” said Matt Starr, Upper Neuse Riverkeeper.

The storm set loose tons of trash, and runners are already gathering it so it can’t contaminate the waterways even more.

On Wednesday,  the NoDa Brewing Run Club and Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation’s Young Allies of the River kept 992 pounds of trash out of Charlotte creeks through “plogging.”

Plogging is the Swedish fitness craze where joggers pick up trash while they run. The term is a combination of jogging and the Swedish phrase “ploka upp,” to pick up.

But that kind of help is limited and the state agencies have not begun their cleanup efforts.

Ken Eudy, a senior adviser to Governor Cooper, told reporters on the conference call today that because hundreds of roads are impassable, it’s not possible to clean up the contaminated floodwaters yet. “We’ve been able to survey the damage from the air,” said Eudy. “When the Department of Environmental Quality gets access to the impacted areas, we can start to clean them up.”

“A few days ago we had several municipal water and sewage systems in danger of stopping because they were running out of fuel. We’ve been able to get fuel to all of those,” said Eudy. “Other than that, we’re unable to assess any kind of environmental damage.”

Travel Still Hampered by Floodwaters

Governor Cooper and the state Department of Transportation, NCDOT, are coordinating with the NC Highway Patrol, NC Emergency Management, National Guard and the U.S. Department of Defense, as well as local law enforcement, to ensure critical personnel and supplies are delivered to affected areas such as Wilmington, which is surrounded by floodwaters.

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One of the many flooded roads Florence has left in North Carolina, Sept 19, 2018 (Photo courtesy NCDOT)

The NCDOT has started to assess some Hurricane Florence-affected roads, as well as railway, aviation and ferry routes. Areas in the southeastern part of the state remain under water, including sections of Interstates 40 and 95.

Ferry service for the public has resumed for several coastal routes, and two state ferries arrived in Southport late Tuesday evening after traveling 14 hours down the Intracoastal Waterway carrying much-needed fuel, transportation workers and supplies to the Wilmington area.

Amtrak passenger train service traveling in and through North Carolina will resume service on Thursday more than a week after service was interrupted by the storm.

On a conference call with reporters, Governor Cooper said more help is needed to deal with both immediate and long-term needs. “We’re grateful for all the help we’ve received, but there are gaps. For the many long-term needs we will need much more federal help.”

Help from the federal government is on the way. People in 18 counties can start applying for federal assistance, after the Federal Emergency Management Agency granted Governor Cooper’s request for a major disaster declaration for the following counties: Bladen, Beaufort, Brunswick, Carteret, Columbus, Craven, Cumberland, Duplin, Harnett, Jones, Lenoir, New Hanover, Onslow, Pamlico, Pender, Robeson, Sampson, and Wayne counties.

The governor has requested a major disaster declaration for additional counties, including Greene, Hoke, Hyde, Johnston, Lee, Montgomery, Moore, Pitt, Richmond, Scotland, and Wilson counties.

How to Get Recovery Help

Anyone with a home damaged by Florence in any county is encouraged to begin the FEMA registration process by calling 1-800-621-FEMA to register via telephone or by visiting www.disasterassistance.gov to register online.

Twenty-five North Carolina counties are authorized for Farm Service Agency emergency loans for eligible family farmers through the U.S. Department of Agriculture: Bladen, Brunswick, Carteret, Chatham, Columbus, Craven, Cumberland, Duplin, Greene, Harnett, Hoke, Johnston, Jones, Lee, Lenoir, Moore, Onslow, Pender, Pitt, Robeson, Sampson, Scotland, Wake, Wayne and Wilson.

Applications will be received for physical and production losses through May 17, 2019. More information is available at www.fsa.usda.gov.

The U.S. Small Business Administration, SBA, has opened a Business Recovery Center in Greenville to help storm-impacted businesses. SBA representatives at the center can provide information about disaster loans, answer questions and assist businesses in completing the SBA application. The Center is located in East Carolina University’s Willis Building at 300 East First St. in Greenville and operates from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays.

More about the SBA loan process is available by calling the SBA Customer Service Center at 800-659-2955, or by sending an e-mail to disastercustomerservice@sba.gov.

Residents and property owners can seek direction from local governments on when to set out fallen limbs and other storm debris for collection. NCDOT crews will collect vegetative debris off roadways and rights of way along state-maintained roads after they have cleared. Property owners can check with their insurance agencies for potential coverage of debris removal.

The North Carolina Disaster Relief Fund is available for donations to support North Carolina’s response to Hurricane Florence. To donate, visit governor.nc.gov or text FLORENCE to 20222.

The statewide information line can provide callers with nearby shelter, housing and other storm-related details. Dial 2-1-1 or 888-892-1162, or text Florence to 898211. The information line is staffed around the clock to connect North Carolinians to storm resources. Other resources can be obtained by visiting ncdps.gov/Florence or following NC Emergency Management on Facebook and Twitter.

Team Rubicon, a nonprofit utilizing the skills and experience of military veterans and disaster responders, is ready to begin “mucking out” flooded houses, Team Rubicon organizer Adam Martin told reporters on the conference call.

“Floods are still rising in some areas,” said Martin. “Trees are down, roads and bridges are washed out. Power supplies and fuel are limited but steadily improving.”

“Communities are coming together to support one another,” Martin said. “We are ready to start mucking out houses. We prioritize homes over businesses because when people have lost their homes and their businesses, they are overwhelmed and don’t know where to start.”

People who need crisis cleanup can call Team Rubicon at 1-800 451-1954.

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Homes and businesses are surrounded by water flowing out of the Cape Fear River in eastern North Carolina, in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence. Helicopters take off daily, searching flooded areas for people in distress,  Sept. 17, 2018 (U.S. Army Photo by Staff Sgt. Mary Junell)

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