U.S. farmers scramble to harvest crops as hurricane looms

FILE PHOTO: Lester "Buddy" Stroud, a farm hand at Shelley Farms, walks through a field of tobacco ready to be harvested in the Pleasant View community of Horry County, South Carolina, U.S., July 26, 2013. REUTERS/Randall Hill/File Photo

By Tom Polansek and P.J. Huffstutter

(Reuters) – As powerful Hurricane Florence crept closer to the southeastern United States on Tuesday, farmers in North Carolina rushed to harvest corn and tobacco and stock up on pig rations, while the danger of deadly flooding threatened a state where millions of farm animals are housed.

The forecasts for devastating rain and winds also had WH Group’s Smithfield Foods [SFII.UL], the largest U.S. pork processor, planning to shut two of its North Carolina plants – including the world’s biggest hog slaughterhouse.

Meanwhile, pig farmers across the state were lowering levels of liquid manure in outdoor storage pits in an effort to avoid a repeat of Hurricane Floyd. The 1999 storm flooded manure pits and contaminated waterways with animal carcasses and waste.

FILE PHOTO: Farm workers place harvested tobacco on a conveyor at Shelly Farms in the Pleasant View community of Horry County, South Carolina, U.S., July 26, 2013. REUTERS/Randall Hill/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Farm workers place harvested tobacco on a conveyor at Shelly Farms in the Pleasant View community of Horry County, South Carolina, U.S., July 26, 2013. REUTERS/Randall Hill/File Photo

North Carolina is the country’s leading producer of tobacco, second-biggest producer of hogs and a major poultry producer. Its crops include corn, soy and cotton, making agriculture the state’s No. 1 industry, valued at $87 billion.

“The governor said that North Carolina is the bull’s eye of this hurricane,” Larry Wooten, president of the North Carolina Farm Bureau, said in an interview. “I’ll tell you, agriculture is in the heart of that bull’s eye.”

Florence, a Category 4 storm with winds of 130 miles per hour (210 kph), was expected to make landfall on Friday, bringing heavy, sustained rain and potentially deadly flooding to the U.S. Southeast coast. Some 1 million people have been ordered to evacuate.

Two-thirds of North Carolina’s farm income comes from poultry and livestock, including hogs and dairy cattle, according to Wooten. The state has 8.9 million swine, 12 percent of the U.S. herd, U.S. Agriculture Department data showed.

In 2017, its farmers raised 830.8 million chickens for meat, 9 percent of the U.S. flock, and 32.5 million turkeys, or 13 percent of the U.S. total, according to USDA data.

It is unclear how many farm animals are in the storm’s path, according to both Wooten and the North Carolina Poultry Federation.

Two years ago, more than a million poultry birds died when floodwaters from Hurricane Matthew covered areas across central and eastern North Carolina. Carcasses were composted inside the houses where the birds were being raised.

More than 20 inches (51 cm) of rainfall are possible across eastern North Carolina, said Don Keeney, senior agricultural meteorologist for weather forecaster Radiant Solutions.

The approaching storm also prompted commodity handler Cargill Inc [CARG.UL] to make plans to close meat processing plants in West Columbia, South Carolina, and Dayton, Virginia, on Friday. Both Cargill and Smithfield said the plant closures were due to safety concerns.


Bo Stone, who raises corn and hogs in Rowland, North Carolina, said he worked into the night to harvest his crop to avoid damage from high winds. On Tuesday, rain halted his progress. “We’ve been running as hard as we can go,” he said.

Stone said relocating animals in the storm zone was not an option for many farmers. “Nobody would have the capacity to handle your animals,” he said.

Tall corn and tobacco crops are most vulnerable to wind damage and difficult to harvest if knocked down, said Rhonda Garrison, executive director of the Corn Growers Association of North Carolina.

“They’re around the clock on corn,” said Andy Curliss, chief executive officer for the NC Pork Council, an industry group.

North Carolina’s corn crop was 43 percent harvested as of Sunday, while the type of tobacco most commonly grown in the state was 67 percent harvested, according to USDA data.

North Carolina has waived transportation rules to help farmers move crops and livestock ahead of the most severe storm to threaten the U.S. mainland this year. “During harvest, time is of the essence,” Governor Roy Cooper said in announcing a state of emergency.

Altria Group Inc, the parent of Philip Morris USA, said the storm could potentially affect tobacco fields, and is exploring its crop-buying options to offset any losses. British American Tobacco’s Reynolds American, parent of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, declined to comment.

North Carolina hog farmers have been spraying hog manure on farmland to lower the levels of waste in storage pits, known as lagoons, said Andrea Ashby, spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

“The levels are in pretty good shape to handle the rain, but it all depends on how much rain we get,” Ashby said.

Most manure pits could handle up to 25 inches of rain, Curliss said.

Smithfield Foods said in a statement it has been lowering waste levels as necessary on its farms and encouraging farmers from whom it buys hogs to do the same.

(Reporting by Tom Polansek and P.J. Huffstutter in Chicago; Additional reporting by Julie Ingwersen in Chicago; Editing by Toni Reinhold and Matthew Lewis)

Six dead, two missing as floods hit Indian-ruled Kashmir

People wade through a flooded street after incessant rains in Srinagar April 7, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Ismail

SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) – Six people were killed and two were reported missing in India’s northern region of Kashmir on Friday, after heavy rain and snowfall swept the region, setting off avalanches and turning mountain rivers into raging torrents.

Helicopters were deployed to rescue people cut off by flash floods that revived memories of 2014, when the Jhelum River flowing through the region’s main city, Srinagar, burst its banks, swamping homes and killing 200 people.

Snowfalls triggered multiple avalanches, defense spokesman Rajesh Kalia told Reuters.

“A post in Batalik sector was buried,” he added. “Two out of five soldiers have been rescued. A rescue operation for three soldiers was in progress and three bodies have been recovered.”

In the Poonch region, an Indian Air Force helicopter was guided by a soldier holding a flare toward a group of villagers stranded on the far bank of a river. They climbed a rope ladder into the craft, which then flew them to safety.

Rajiv Pandey, senior superintendent of police in Poonch, said 17 people were evacuated from the area.

In Srinagar, the summer capital of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, some low-lying districts along the Jhelum were swamped but residents said the river was starting to recede.

“We are relieved as the water level is receding and the rains are reducing,” said one resident. “We are praying that rain should stop.”

(Reporting by Fayaz Bukhari and Reuters Television; Writing by Douglas Busvine; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Eastern India struggles to evacuate reluctant villagers as floods wreak havoc

People stand on a partially submerged house as they wait to receive food parcels being distributed by a Indian Air Force helicopter on the outskirts of Allahabad,

By Jatindra Dash

BHUBANESWAR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Authorities in eastern India are struggling to evacuate more than 100,000 people stranded in villages after floods intensified, killing more than 300 and driving hundreds of thousands from their homes, officials said on Thursday.

The heavy monsoon rains have caused rivers including the Ganges and its tributaries to burst their banks forcing over 200,000 people into relief camps in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand.

The deluge has submerged thousands of villages, washed away crops, destroyed homes and roads and disrupted power and phone lines, affecting millions of people across the five states.

In India’s eastern Bihar state, one of the worst-hit regions, disaster management officials said villagers in some areas were not willing to be evacuated, reluctant to leave their homes, possessions and livestock for fear of looting.

“We are asking them with folded hands, please come to the relief centers. Those who do not want to leave homes, their number is very large, probably more than 100,000 people,” said Bihar’s Principal Secretary for Disaster Management Vyas Ji.

“The water is rising downstream and we do not want people in those areas to stay in their houses,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Since the monsoons began in June, more than five million people across 26 out of Bihar’s 38 districts have been affected and at least 127 people have died, mostly due to drowning.

In the past week, 2.3 million people have had their lives disrupted and the death toll has reached 28. At least 107,000 people have taken refuge in government relief camps.

News reports said one person died and nine others were missing in Aurangabad district after a boat carrying 18 people who were trying to flee the disaster sank in the Punpun river, a tributary of the Ganges, on Tuesday.

In neighboring Uttar Pradesh state, at least 53 people have died and more than 1.8 million people across 29 out of total of 75 districts have been hit by the disaster.

Television pictures showed people wading neck-high in water in Ballia district, while others took shelter on roof tops of multi-storey buildings.

Uttar Pradesh’s Relief Commissioner Dinesh Kumar Singh said rescue and relief teams from the National Disaster Response Forces had evacuated thousands of people in boats and the Indian Air Force was airdropping food packets from helicopters.

People unload relief food material from an Indian Air Force helicopter to be distributed among the flood victims, on the outskirts of Allahabad, India,

People unload relief food material from an Indian Air Force helicopter to be distributed among the flood victims, on the outskirts of Allahabad, India, August 24, 2016. REUTERS/Jitendra Prakash

“More than 90,000 people have been displaced from their homes and about 60,000 of them have taken shelter in relief camps,” Singh told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“The good thing is there has been no rain over the last three days.”

India usually experiences monsoon rains from June to September, which are vital for its agriculture — making up 18 percent of its gross domestic product and providing employment for almost half of its 1.3 billion population.

But in many states the rains frequently cause landslides and flooding that devastate crops, destroy homes and expose people to diseases such as diarrhea.

Authorities said there was no problem in reaching flood-hit areas, but television pictures on Wednesday showed crowds of people in Bihar’s Patna district blocking roads and complaining of a lack of aid.

“We are in difficulty. We are not getting food,” a middle-aged woman standing on an embankment told Kashish News, a local Hindi station.

(Reporting by Jatindra Dash. Editing by Nita Bhalla and Astrid Zweynert. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)

Thousands still in shelters after record Louisiana floods

Louisiana Floods

By Sam Karlin

BATON ROUGE, La. (Reuters) – More than 3,000 Louisiana residents were still in emergency shelters as record flood waters receded on Monday, while government officials weighed options for temporary housing after the state’s worst disaster since Hurricane Katrina.

About 60,600 homes have been reported damaged or destroyed in flooding that swept through 20 parishes, or counties, in the southern part of the state after torrential rains earlier this month.

With swollen rivers, streams and bayous returning to normal, many people were going back to their homes and businesses, and state offices had reopened.

But the governor’s office said 3,075 residents were still living in shelters as of Monday, a day before President Barack Obama is due to tour the stricken area.

The extent of the damage prompted the Federal Emergency Management Agency to extend a grace period to renew lapsed flood insurance policies for parts of Louisiana for the first time since Katrina in 2005.

“We’ve seen major destruction to communities across the state,” Roy Wright, deputy associate administrator for FEMA’s Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration, said in a statement about the extension.

Residents have already filed more than 25,600 flood insurance claims. But only 42 percent of Louisiana homes in high-risk areas had flood insurance, while only 12.5 percent of homeowners in low and moderate-risk zones were covered, according to FEMA estimates.

The agency has also already received some 110,500 applications for individual assistance, and $74 million in individual grants has been paid out.

“When it comes to a home that is lost, FEMA money is not designed to replace insurance or make people whole again,” said FEMA spokesman Rafael Lemaitre. “It’s a life vest, not a life boat.”

So far, the number of people affected by the floods pales in comparison with the nearly 74,000 families forced out of homes after Katrina and the 11,000 displaced after Hurricane Rita, a storm that came a few weeks later in 2005.

In 2005, FEMA faced widespread criticism for what many considered a slow, inept response. But the agency appears to have benefited from experience.

“From the vantage point of a citizen, what we see is a much more coordinated state, federal and local partnership on the response,” said Adam Knapp, head of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and a former deputy director of the Louisiana Recovery Authority after Katrina.

“That is a perhaps a hard-fought, hard-won experience for us since Katrina – when we learned how important it is to be coordinated in the immediate response.”

FEMA has formed a task force to identify temporary housing options for the thousands displaced by the floods, Lemaitre said. That may include manufactured housing units that meet or exceed government certifications, he said.

FEMA paid $6.6 billion to about 1.07 million households and individuals in the Gulf states after Katrina, $5.3 billion of which went to Louisiana alone.

In response to this month’s flooding, FEMA has issued more than $15 million in advanced flood insurance payments to Louisianans who sustained damages, the agency said in a statement on Monday.

(Additional reporting and writing by Chris Prentice in New York; editing by Frank McGurty and Tom Brown)

Southern U.S. Pummeled By Latest Storm

Southern Alabama and the Florida Panhandle were slammed by a severe storm, bringing death and destruction across the South.

Drivers on Interstate 10 at the Alabama-Florida state line were forced to abandon their vehicles and walk to safety after officials shut it down due to high water.

The flooding also kept fire rescue crews from being able to respond to calls for help in the  Pensacola area.

“It’s gotten to the point where we can’t send EMS and fire rescue crews out on some 911 calls  because they can’t get there,” Escambia County spokesman Bill Pearson said. “We’ve had people whose homes are flooding and they’ve had to climb up to the attic.”

Alabama was hit with 11.5 inches of rain overnight. Officials were calling people living south of Interstate 10 warning them not to travel.

Thailand Factories Close Due To Flooding

Flooding in Thailand is forcing at least seventeen factories in a major industrial zone to close because workers are unable to reach the plants.

Officials say that the plants in the Amata Nakorn Industrial Estate east of the capital city of Bangkok have requested the help of the country’s Navy to pump the water out of their buildings. Workers have been unable to report for work because all roads into the facility are covered by floodwater.

“There is flood water outside the premises and on some surrounding roads,” Wilbun Krommadit of Amata said in a statement. “[The flooding is] blocking entry for workers who are unable to easily get to work.”

More than half of the country has experienced flooding this year although officials are stating they do not expect them to reach the levels of the 2011 floods that devastated the country. The facilities at the Industrial Estate cover 7,450 acres and produce parts for the major Japanese automakers.

Krommadit told Reuters that more than 100 pumps have been making a difference with the floodwater, lowering the levels at least six inches.

The flooding in Thailand has killed at least 76 people and more than 3 million have been displaced by the water.

Colorado Residents Warned To Avoid Floodwater

Colorado emergency officials are telling residents to avoid contact with any lingering floodwater because of the possibility of toxic contaminants.

Residents who were forced from their homes will be given temporary passes to visit their homes during daylight hours but will be told to avoid any standing water. Officials say that because of the amount of flooding the water could contain pollution from oil and gas drilling centers. Continue reading

Colorado Flooding Raises Concern of West Nile Risk

Officials in Weld County, Colorado are raising the concern that the flooding which devastated Colorado could lead to a major outbreak of West Nile Virus.

Weather forecasts are calling for hot weather and that could speed up the growing process for mosquitoes that transmit the disease. The eggs could mature into an adult in just a week. Continue reading