Florence battered the Carolinas this past week, dozens of heartwarming animal-rescue stories made national headlines ― dogs sprung from flooding homes, pets packed into a school bus, cats plucked directly from the water.
But millions of animals would not be so lucky.
An estimated 5,500 pigs and 3.4 million chickens and turkeys in North Carolina have died as a result of the storm,
according to the state’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Aerial photos of the state from earlier this week showed multiple industrial barns almost completely submerged in water. Chicken farm buildings are inundated with floodwater from Hurricane Florence near Trenton, North Carolina, Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018. (Photo: AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Estimates on how many farm animals have died were based on field assessments by emergency workers and veterinarians directly after the storm,
Those numbers are “preliminary” and “likely to change,” NCDACS spokeswoman Heather Overton told HuffPost.
She said the estimates include animal deaths from direct storm damage, like wind or collapsing buildings, or from drowning.
Pigs at a farm in Ayden, North Carolina, on Sept. 12. (Photo: Bloomberg via Getty Images)
She added there were also farms currently cut off from necessities like animal feed, and that the agriculture department was
working on getting supplies to these farms. Earlier this week, poultry producer Sanderson Farms noted that multiple farms were unreachable because of floodwater and in dire need of food for the birds.
The estimated 5,000 pigs and 3.4 million birds believed dead are out of a total of about 9 million pigs and 819 million chickens and turkeys across the state, Overton said.
Ahead of the storm, which made landfall as a hurricane, some farmers
rushed to move animals to high ground, while others said the massive number of animals they had made moving them impossible.
Most of those animals were, of course, ultimately bound to be slaughtered. But some animal advocates saw the livestock death toll as reflective of an industrial farming system largely unconcerned with the welfare of individual animals.
“Animals exploited for food are treated like unfeeling commodities rather than individuals with a will to live, and they are commonly caged and confined in warehouses, making it impossible for them to escape when disasters strike,” Susie Coston, national shelter director for farm animal protection group Farm Sanctuary, told HuffPost in a statement.
And the Humane Society of the United States said in a statement that while emergency preparations for farms has improved over the years, “it is clear that disaster planning for animals held in large numbers is far from where it needs to be for the lives affected, both human and animal.”
A flooded farm in central North Carolina on Sept. 16. (Photo: Handout . / Reuters)
Florence’s impact on North Carolina’s numerous hog farms poses risks to human health as well, thanks to
so-called lagoons that contain pig feces, urine and whatever else drops below the slatted floors of industrial barns and gets pumped into large man-made holes in the ground.
Severe rain or rising floodwaters can cause the lagoon contents to overflow. And festering pig waste mixing with floodwater can be a health hazard, especially for people with weaker immune systems.
Love HuffPost? Become a founding member of HuffPost Plus today. Pigs stand over the slatted floor of a barn in Ayden, North Carolina, on Sept. 12. (Photo: Bloomberg via Getty Images)
“If you have a child or someone elderly or on a steroid inhaler or on chemotherapy, they may be more fragile,” H. Kim Lyerly, Duke University pathology and immunology professor,
told The News & Observer. And as The New York Times notes, lagoon leakages can cause major environmental hazards when untreated waste contributes to algal blooms that kill marine life. According to Wednesday data from the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, 21 lagoons had overflowed and 17 had surface water “surrounding and flowing into” the lagoon. An additional five lagoons had structural damage, while 36 were in a state where overflowing was considered likely.
Hurricane Florence Has Killed Millions Of Chickens In North Carolina (UPDATE) Aerial Photos Show Scale Of Hurricane Florence Damage 2 South Carolina Detainees Drown In Hurricane Florence Floodwaters Also on HuffPost Rescue workers from Township No. 7 Fire Department and volunteers from the Civilian Crisis Response Team use a boat to rescue a woman and her dog from their flooded home. Robert Simmons Jr. and his kitten 'Survivor' are rescued from floodwaters in New Bern, N.C.. The wind blows as Reyes visits the beach as people await the arrival of Hurricane Florence on September 13, 2018 in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Panicked dogs who were left caged by an owner who fled rising flood waters in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, are rescued by volunteer rescuer Ryan Nichols of Longview, Texas, in Leland, North Carolina. Panicked dogs who were left caged by an owner who fled rising flood waters in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, swim free after their release in Leland, North Carolina, U.S. A woman holds her dog as she waits to enter a hurricane shelter at Trask Middle School in Wilmington, North Carolina, on September 11, 2018. An injured pelican is pictured after Hurricane Florence struck on Carolina Beach, North Carolina, U.S., September 15, 2018. Amanda Mason on Newport, N.C. carries a cat she rescued from her neighborhood off of Nine Foot Road on Sunday afternoon, Sept. 16, 2018. Mason and her partner Zack McWilliams visited their damaged home and found the displaced cat and carried it out to safety. Horses are led to higher ground during Tropical Storm Florence in Lumberton, North Carolina, U.S. September 16, 2018. REUTERS/Randall Hill A soaked cat rests at the entrance to a trailer home after swimming there through floodwaters, before eventually being rescued, as the Northeast Cape Fear River breaks its banks after Hurricane Florence in Burgaw, North Carolina, U.S., September 17, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake Birds huddle together after Hurricane Florence struck on Carolina Beach, North Carolina, U.S., September 15, 2018. A woman carries her cat on a flooded street after Hurricane Florence struck Piney Green, North Carolina, U.S., September 16, 2018. Volunteers from all over North Carolina help rescue residents and their pets from their flooded homes during Hurricane Florence September 14, 2018 in New Bern, North Carolina. A cat walks through a flooded street after Hurricane Florence struck Piney Green, North Carolina. Birds huddle against the wind and rain of Hurricane Florence at the Oceana Pier in Atlantic Beach, N.C. Friday morning, Sept. 14, 2018. Marge and Steve Durham, with their dog Seti and Saba the cat, from Myrtle Beach South Carolina park their RVs and settle into the Family Campground section of the Atlanta Motor Speedway which has been made available for evacuees fleeing Hurricane Florence's path in Hampton Georgia on Thursday September 13, 2018. Adan Cooper, a K9 handler from Colorado Springs, left, pets his dog Tag as paramedic Fred Salazar, also from Colorado Springs, gives the dog IV fluids as members of Colorado Task Force 1 prepare for search and rescue operation during Hurricane Florence on September 14, 2018 in Pembroke, North Carolina. IV fluids help the dog stay healthy during his search and rescue work. Rescue workers stand with a search dog as they prepare to continue rescue efforts after Hurricane Florence in Wilmington, North Carolina, U.S., on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018. Pedestrians cross a flooded parking lot after Hurricane Florence in Wilmington, North Carolina, U.S., on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018. A man and his dog get a close look at the beach from a golf cart during Hurricane Florence in Surfside Beach, South Carolina, U.S. September 14, 2018. Tyler Bates holds his dogs as he is evacuated from his apartment by members of New York Urban Search and Rescue Task Force One due to flood waters from the Little River as it crests from the rains caused by Hurricane Florence as it passed through the area on September 18, 2018 in Spring Lake, North Carolina. An escaped horse moves about near the floodwater caused by Hurricane Florence in Lumberton, North Carolina, U.S. September 16, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Miczek FAYETTEVILLE, NC - SEPTEMBER 16: Dominique Capers carries her dog Lougie as she evacuates her home ahead of possible flood waters after Hurricane Florence passed through the area on September 16, 2018 in Fayetteville, North Carolina. A wet dog waits with his owners as they await rescue from rising flood waters in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence in Leland, North Carolina, U.S., September 16, 2018. A man and his dog walk along a flooded street after the passage of tropical storm Florence in New Bern, North Carolina, U.S., September 16, 2018. Lisa Shackleford carries her pet dogs Izzy (L) and Bella as she wades through flood waters while the Northeast Cape Fear River breaks its banks in the aftermath Hurricane Florence in Burgaw, North Carolina, U.S., September 17, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake Volunteers from all over North Carolina help rescue residents and their pets from their flooded homes during Hurricane Florence September 14, 2018 in New Bern, North Carolina. A Husky sled dog named Maya peers out from a rescue boat as she joins people fleeing rising flood waters in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence in Leland, North Carolina, U.S., September 16, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake A dog is illuminated by the flashlights and headlamps of rescue workers inside a house during Tropical Storm Florence at night in Wilmington, North Carolina, U.S., on Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018. Major poultry andï¿½meatï¿½companies are starting to resume operations in the Carolinas as the torrential rains and flooding unleashed by Hurricaneï¿½Florenceï¿½start to subside. Photographer: Alex Wroblewski/Bloomberg via Getty Images Aerial view of a hog farm after the passing of Hurricane Florence in eastern North Carolina, U.S., September 17, 2018. This article originally appeared on HuffPost.