Hurricane Florence Was Bad – And the Worst Could Be Still to Come

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Hurricane Florence promised to pummel the Carolinas with up to 40 inches of rain, we reported last week. In the end, it came close, dumping 36 inches on Elizabethtown, North Carolina, and 30-plus inches across other cities in the area.

And while Florence was ultimately downgraded from a Category 3 hurricane to a tropical storm (and some news reporters did create some instantly-viral melodramatics) the devastating effects of its rain of terror live on.

The worst of the storm has passed, bet the flooding remains. The Cape Fear River near Fayetteville, North Carolina, normally about 15 feet deep, swelled to 60 feet – so high that it created a new overflow "river" out of Interstate 40. And entire cities, like Wilmington, North Carolina, remain cut off from the rest of the state because of the flooding.

The Hurricane was Deadly – and It's Still Impacting the East Coast

Days after the hurricane hit, we now know that at least 33 people died because of the storm or the flooding – including 25 residents of North Carolina, 16 people in South Carolina and one person in Virginia.

At least a few Carolinians are starting to return to their homes – like the residents of Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. But life is hardly back to normal, since, on top of dealing with flood damage, residents can't easily travel between cities because of the flooding and have to follow city-wide curfews.

Others, like those who live near the Cape Fear River, are still not able to return home. Roughly 10,000 Carolinians are staying in shelters, CBS reports, and 343,000 people are still without power.

Other major cities in the east are feeling the effects of the storm, too. Florence also triggered heavy rain and flash flooding in Boston, and Southern New England is under a flash flood warning until early Wednesday morning, the Boston Globe reports.

Flood Water Spreads Pollution

Isolation and water damage aren't the only consequences of heavy flooding – the rain and water can wreak havoc on the environment. Heavy rains pummel waste disposal sites, too, picking up pollution and spreading it throughout the region.

That's a major concern in North Carolina because of its robust hog industry, Vox explains. Normally, farmers keep animal feces in urine in isolated pools, called anaerobic lagoons. There, bacteria can break down the waste, converting it to fertilizer.

Florence flooded the lagoons, causing some containers to overflow and spill sewage (and toxic bacteria) into the area. On top of that, flooded coal ash sites – also abundant in North Carolina – could leak toxic heavy metals and radioactive waste.

The experts aren't sure yet how severe the damage is – and we may not know for months, Vox reports – but the flooding could pose a health threat for months or years to come.

What's Happening Worldwide Might Be Even Worse

Hurricane season is never fun – but climate change means that hurricanes and other extreme weather events might be more destructive than normal. Rising sea levels, increased temperatures – and the resulting increased humidity – all make for stronger cyclones.

Right now, there are a staggering seven superstorms brewing or landed right now: Florence, tropical cyclone Barijat, Super Typhoon Mangkhut, and tropical storms Helene, Isaac, and Joyce over the Atlantic. Harsher, more devastating storms will affect us worldwide – meaning those "100-year" storms will come much more often.

Unless lawmakers adapt by combating climate change and preventing some of the worst storm-related pollution (say, by making new regulations and having stricter oversight into animal waste management) the problem will get worse.

Want to help? Use our guide to write your representative – and start fighting climate change at home.

About the Author

Sylvie Tremblay holds a Master of Science in molecular and cellular biology and has years of experience as a cancer researcher and neuroscientist. Before launching her writing business, she worked as a TA and tutored students in biology, chemistry, math and physics.

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