More than 5,500 pigs and 3.4 million chickens and turkeys have been killed in Hurricane Florence, mostly by drowning in record-breaking floods in North Carolina, says the state’s agriculture department.
That number is expected to rise in the coming days, says North Carolina Department Agriculture and Consumer Services, as many farm owners have not had the opportunity to properly account for their losses, and millions of farm animals are still stranded in high-risk flooded areas.
Hurricane Florence, which made landfall in North Carolina on September 14, claimed at least 37 human lives and cost $17 billion in damages. But the storm has also taken a brutal toll on some of the country’s biggest livestock suppliers.
Sanderson Farms, the third largest poultry supplier in the US, has alone lost 1.7 million of its broiler chickens after 60 of its facilities flooded, and the company is trying to access 6 million chickens near Lumberton, North Carolina, before they starve to death or die of exposure.
The livestock losses from Florence exceed those from North Carolina’s last major emergency, Hurricane Matthew, which killed an estimated 1.8 million chickens in 2016. These animal deaths echo the loss of potentially thousands of cows after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas in 2017.
Read More: Islands of Starving Cows Discovered After Hurricane Harvey
While civilians in the path of hurricanes often take household pets with them when they evacuate, farm animals are left to weather natural disasters in enclosures and pastures. This can be especially devastating to states such as North Carolina, Texas, and Georgia, which are both hurricane-vulnerable and leading meat producers in the US.
There are also economic, environmental, and health consequences to livestock deaths in the wake of hurricanes. The cost of bacon and pork sourced from North Carolina could rise, perhaps as much as 30 cents per pound according to market analyst Phil Flynn, and the flooded manure “lagoons” have raised longstanding concerns about fecal contamination.
These problems could be further exacerbated in future disasters, both because American livestock sectors continue to grow and because climate change is expected to produce more intense hurricanes.
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