As October rolls in, slow-moving flood crests and sluggish drainage persisting weeks after the passage of Hurricane Florence are leaving large eastern areas in the affected states too inundated for accurate damage assessments. The extent of damage is still largely uncalculated. In some cases, it’s believed to be worsening.
Schools and universities are particularly hard hit. “We are in process of gathering damage estimates, but it is very preliminary at this point,” says Drew Elliot, communications director with the N.C. Dept. of Public Instruction. “I don’t have any hard data to share—mostly because the hardest-hit areas are least able, for a variety of reasons, to obtain accurate damage estimates of school-related structures. But we feel comfortable saying that we will be lucky if damages to schools from Florence don’t reach three times the damages from [Hurricane] Matthew.”
School systems across the largely rural eastern counties in both of the Carolinas report structural and water damage to buildings, some requiring closure for the remainder of the school year. High humidity and rainfall in recent weeks have exacerbated damage at many locations where interiors remain exposed to the elements. Community colleges and universities are similarly impacted.
Although some school districts, such as in Brunswick County, N.C., have let contracts for cleanup and mold remediation, questions linger as to whether insurance will be sufficient to cover losses.
Many contractors are contending with their own challenges, like Rocky Mount, N.C.-based Barnhill Construction, whose facilities sustained flood damage and a business interruption, compounded by many employees being displaced from their homes or taking leave to deal with personal emergencies, says Marty Moser, senior vice president.
Mark Johnnie, vice president and Southeast region manager for Balfour Beatty Infrastructure, says that work has resumed at his firm’s Wilmington, N.C.-area projects, although supplies of aggregate/rock are a concern, given flooding at several key source mines in the region.
Slow-moving flood crests have complicated the South Carolina Department of Transportation’s efforts to implement repairs at more than 230 locations in the state’s eastern counties, according to the agency. North Carolina’s DOT hopes to complete temporary pavement and shoulder repairs to its remaining closed roads by Thanksgiving. According to an agency spokesperson, damage to the U.S. Route 701 bridge connecting Bladen and Sampson Counties will require full replacement of the structure and approaches, which NCDOT is addressing through an expedited design-bid-build procurement.
Contamination from flood-breached hazardous waste sites is proving to be another of Florence’s legacies.
As inland runoff made its way to the ocean, high levels of bacteria were recorded in waters off the southeast North Carolina coast, resulting in temporary restrictions on swimming and water contact for several days at the end of September.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is conducting PCB clean-up at several properties adjacent to a Cheraw, S.C., Superfund site where remediation work has been underway since last year. In Wilmington, where the swollen Cape Fear River breached a cooling lake at the L.V. Sutton Power Plant, Duke Energy reports that water quality remains largely unaffected by the release of alumna and silica cenospheres, a byproduct of coal combustion.
Although Duke Energy says that the Sutton Plant’s coal ash storage basins remain stable, both environmental groups and state regulators are keeping close watch on conditions at other facilities. A plume in the Neuse River originating from an eroding coal ash dam at the decommissioned H.F. Lee Plant near Goldsboro was found to contain arsenic levels 18 times higher than the North Carolina standard of 10 micrograms per liter, according to a water sample analysis conducted for the Upper Neuse Riverkeeper and Waterkeeper Alliance.
However, subsequent tests conducted at multiple locations around the plant by the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality found levels of arsenic, barium and other metals within state quality standards. Duke Energy spokesperson Erin Culbert says the utility has developed a state-approved post-flood monitoring plan, and will take additional steps should results warrant.
By Jim Parsons with Tom Sawyer