(Adds comments from state agriculture department, poultry
By Tom Polansek
CHICAGO Oct 12 Flooding from Hurricane Matthew
has killed up to 5 million poultry birds in North Carolina, most
of them chickens, the state's top environmental official said on
Wednesday, hurting a major contributor to its economy.
Donald van der Vaart, secretary of the North Carolina
Department of Environmental Quality, also told Reuters that some
pits that hold hog waste on farms had been inundated with
floodwaters. The waste, mixing with water, may eventually make
its way into rivers, streams and the Atlantic Ocean.
Van der Vaart said he did not know how many pits had been
inundated but that the environmental damage would be minimal
because the hog waste will be "vastly diluted" by floodwaters.
North Carolina officials have been racing to help farmers
swamped by Matthew and to assess damages since the storm dumped
heavy rains on the state over the weekend. They have wanted to
avoid a repeat of Hurricane Floyd, which overwhelmed hog farms
and pits in 1999, contaminating waterways with animal carcasses
"Knock on wood, right now we don't have the kind of
catastrophic losses we had in 1999," van der Vaart said. He
added that there had been "a tremendous loss of life on the
poultry side," however, saying the number of birds killed could
total about 5 million.
Floodwaters have covered areas across central and eastern
North Carolina this week, killing 19 people and forcing more
than 3,800 residents to flee to shelters.
Agriculture is the state's top industry, contributing about
$84 billion to the economy, according to the North Carolina
Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
The department has confirmed 1.8 million poultry have died,
mostly chickens, spokesman Brian Long said. The total is
expected to increase, he added.
Last year, North Carolina produced about 823 million
chickens for meat, according to the U.S. Department of
Sanderson Farms Inc, the third largest U.S. poultry
producer, said it lost about 250,000 chickens being raised for
meat in the state.
Tyson Foods Inc said its losses were minimal because
the company does did not have operations raising chickens for
meat in flooded areas.
Privately held Perdue Farms said it was still assessing the
number of chickens it lost.
Chicken carcasses will be disposed of primarily through
composting inside the houses where the chickens were being
raised, North Carolina officials said.
The state's agriculture department said it had asked the
U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency for about $5 million to
help cover composting costs.
(Reporting by Tom Polansek; editing by Grant McCool and Tom