Thursday, September 13, 2018

Hurricane Florence threatens rural towns still ravaged by 2016 storm; may also spread toxic coal ash from pits

Map shows coal ash sites and projected rainfall from Florence.
(InsideClimate News map; click on the image to enlarge it.)
As Hurricane Florence barrels toward the Carolinas and Virginia, rural residents worry that it could be just as damaging as Hurricane Matthew two years ago, which produced "catastrophic levels of flooding throughout low-lying eastern North Carolina and causing billions of dollars in damages," Patrick Rucker reports for Reuters. Rural, low-income towns were among the hardest hit and are most at risk from Florence.

The downtown district in Fair Bluff, for example, has been a "virtual ghost town" since Matthew. About 1,000 people had lived there, but the town's part-time administrator estimates more than a quarter have left and not returned. Reconstruction efforts are still underway, but  "Residents and business owners have often found it challenging to navigate state and federal bureaucracies in search of recovery and repair funds," Rucker reports.

North Carolina may be more vulnerable to high flooding because state lawmakers passed a law in 2012 making it illegal for policymakers and developers to make decisions based on a report that predicted rising sea levels. "A panel of scientists on the state Coastal Resources Commission issued a dire warning in March 2010, estimating that the sea levels along the state’s coast would rise 39 inches over the next century," Jenavieve Hatch reports for HuffPost. Conservative lawmakers and business interest groups feared the report would hurt lucrative real estate development on the state’s coast and sought to undermine it. A lobbying group committed to economic development on the coast accused the panel of 'pulling data out of their hip pocket'."

Two other major sources of concern: what will happen if Florence floods out hog-manure pits and toxic coal-ash pits. Both could spill hazardous contaminants into groundwater and waterways. "The Environmental Protection Agency is assessing the vulnerability of at least 40 toxic-waste sites that could be damaged," Stuart Leavenworth reports for McClatchy. "But that review does not include dozens of inland Superfund sites that potentially could be flooded by the storm’s fluctuating path."

The review includes 29 sites in Virginia, six in North Carolina and five in South Carolina. But there are 35 Superfund sites in North Carolina and 31 in South Carolina, many of which could flood, Leavenworth reports.

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