Why the Carolinas may face even more danger in Florence's floodwaters

Even after Florence passes, the hazards from the hurricane won't be over: Lingering floodwaters can pose a potential risk to anyone exposed to them.

"The water is not going to be safe, both from chemical and biological contamination. After a disaster, we tend to see a lot of skin infections and skin rashes," said Jeff Schlegelmilch, deputy director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University.

There can also be waterborne illnesses, ranging from inconvenient but fairly harmless gastrointestinal ones, such as norovirus, to rarer, more serious bacteria, such as Vibrio, a potentially deadly micro-organism.

RELATED: Hurricane Florence makes landfall

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Hurricane Florence makes landfall
IN SPACE - SEPTEMBER 14: In this NOAA satellite handout image , shows Hurricane Florence as it made landfall near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina on September 14, 2018. The National Hurricane Center reported Florence had sustained winds of 90 mph at landfall and was moving slowly westward at 6 mph. (Photo by NOAA via Getty Images)
MYRTLE BEACH, SC - SEPTEMBER 14: Storm clouds are seen over the 2nd ave pier as the force of Hurricane Florence is beginning to be felt on September 14, 2018 in Myrtle Beach, United States. Hurricane Florence is hitting along the North Carolina and South Carolina coastline bringing high winds and rain. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
NORTH CAROLINA, USA - SEPTEMBER 13: A car goes through a flooded street during the heavy rain of outer bands of Hurricane Florence in New Bern, North Carolina, United States on September 13, 2018. Hurricane Florence is expected to arrive on Friday along the North Carolina and South Carolina coastline. (Photo by Atlgan Ozdil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MYRTLE BEACH, SC - SEPTEMBER 14: Clouds are seen over a deserted Ocean blvd as the force of Hurricane Florence is felt on September 14, 2018 in Myrtle Beach, United States. Hurricane Florence is hitting along the North Carolina and South Carolina coastline bringing high winds and rain. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
NORTH CAROLINA, USA - SEPTEMBER 13: A car goes through a flooded street during the heavy rain of outer bands of Hurricane Florence in New Bern, North Carolina, United States on September 13, 2018. Hurricane Florence is expected to arrive on Friday along the North Carolina and South Carolina coastline. (Photo by Atlgan Ozdil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NORTH CAROLINA, USA - SEPTEMBER 13: A flooded street is seen as the outer bands of Hurricane Florence hits in New Bern, North Carolina, United States on September 13, 2018. Hurricane Florence is expected to arrive on Friday along the North Carolina and South Carolina coastline. (Photo by Atlgan Ozdil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NORTH CAROLINA, USA - SEPTEMBER 13: A car goes through a flooded street during the heavy rain of outer bands of Hurricane Florence in New Bern, North Carolina, United States on September 13, 2018. Hurricane Florence is expected to arrive on Friday along the North Carolina and South Carolina coastline. (Photo by Atlgan Ozdil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NORTH CAROLINA, USA - SEPTEMBER 13: People try cross the street during the heavy rain of outer bands of Hurricane Florence in New Bern, North Carolina, United States on September 13, 2018. Hurricane Florence is expected to arrive on Friday along the North Carolina and South Carolina coastline. (Photo by Atlgan Ozdil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NORTH CAROLINA, USA - SEPTEMBER 13: A man tries to cross the street during the heavy rain of outer bands of Hurricane Florence in New Bern, North Carolina, United States on September 13, 2018. Hurricane Florence is expected to arrive on Friday along the North Carolina and South Carolina coastline. (Photo by Atlgan Ozdil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NORTH CAROLINA, USA - SEPTEMBER 13: People try cross the street during the heavy rain of outer bands of Hurricane Florence in New Bern, North Carolina, United States on September 13, 2018. Hurricane Florence is expected to arrive on Friday along the North Carolina and South Carolina coastline. (Photo by Atlgan Ozdil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NORTH CAROLINA, USA - SEPTEMBER 13: People try cross the street during the heavy rain of outer bands of Hurricane Florence in New Bern, North Carolina, United States on September 13, 2018. Hurricane Florence is expected to arrive on Friday along the North Carolina and South Carolina coastline. (Photo by Atlgan Ozdil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NORTH CAROLINA, USA - SEPTEMBER 13: US military vehicle goes through a flooded street during the heavy rain of outer bands of Hurricane Florence in New Bern, North Carolina, United States on September 13, 2018. Hurricane Florence is expected to arrive on Friday along the North Carolina and South Carolina coastline. (Photo by Atlgan Ozdil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NORTH CAROLINA, USA - SEPTEMBER 13: A man tries to cross the street during the heavy rain of outer bands of Hurricane Florence in New Bern, North Carolina, United States on September 13, 2018. Hurricane Florence is expected to arrive on Friday along the North Carolina and South Carolina coastline. (Photo by Atlgan Ozdil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
People walk on a local street as water from Neuse River starts flooding houses upon Hurricane Florence coming ashore in New Bern, North Carolina, U.S., September 13, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
A member of the U.S. Army walks through floodwaters near the Union Point Park Complex as Hurricane Florence comes ashore in New Bern, North Carolina, U.S., September 13, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
Water from Neuse River starts flooding houses as the Hurricane Florence comes ashore in New Bern, North Carolina, U.S., September 13, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
The Bank of America is seen covered in plywood as the Hurricane Florence comes ashore in New Bern, North Carolina, U.S., September 13, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
Docks broken by water from Neuse River are seen floating as Hurricane Florence comes ashore in New Bern, North Carolina, U.S., September 13, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
The Union Point Park Complex is seen flooded as the Hurricane Florence comes ashore in New Bern, North Carolina, U.S., September 13, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Water from Neuse River floods houses as Hurricane Florence comes ashore in New Bern, North Carolina, U.S., September 13, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
MYRTLE BEACH, SC - SEPTEMBER 14: Linda Stephens checks out the weather as the force of Hurricane Florence is beginning to be felt on September 14, 2018 in Myrtle Beach, United States. Hurricane Florence is hitting along the North Carolina and South Carolina coastline bringing high winds and rain. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
A tree bends from the heavy rain and wind from Hurricane Florence in Wilmington, North Carolina on September 14, 2018. - Florence smashed into the US East Coast Friday with howling winds, torrential rains and life-threatening storm surges as emergency crews scrambled to rescue hundreds of people stranded in their homes by flood waters. Forecasters warned of catastrophic flooding and other mayhem from the monster storm, which is only Category 1 but physically sprawling and dangerous. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images)
JAMES CITY, NC - SEPTEMBER 14: Volunteers from the Civilian Crisis Response Team help rescue three children from their flooded home September 14, 2018 in James City, United States. Hurricane Florence made landfall in North Carolina as a Category 1 storm and flooding from the heavy rain is forcing hundreds of people to call for emergency rescues in the area around New Bern, North Carolina, which sits at the confluence of the Nueces and Trent rivers. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Jeremiah Johnson, a front desk clerk at the Sleep Inn in Jacksonville, North Carolina, attempts to reattach the front doors of the hotel on September 14, 2018, after the hotel lost power in the evening during Hurricane Florence. - Florence smashed into the US East Coast Friday with howling winds, torrential rains and life-threatening storm surges as emergency crews scrambled to rescue hundreds of people stranded in their homes by flood waters. Forecasters warned of catastrophic flooding and other mayhem from the monster storm, which is only Category 1 but physically sprawling and dangerous. (Photo by Logan Cyrus / AFP) (Photo credit should read LOGAN CYRUS/AFP/Getty Images)
JAMES CITY, NC - SEPTEMBER 14: Volunteers from the Civilian Crisis Response Team rescue a man with chest pains from his flooded home September 14, 2018 in James City, United States. Hurricane Florence made landfall in North Carolina as a Category 1 storm and flooding from the heavy rain is forcing hundreds of people to call for emergency rescues in the area around New Bern, North Carolina, which sits at the confluence of the Nueces and Trent rivers. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
JAMES CITY, NC - SEPTEMBER 14: Volunteers from the Civilian Crisis Response Team help rescue three children from their flooded home September 14, 2018 in James City, United States. Hurricane Florence made landfall in North Carolina as a Category 1 storm and flooding from the heavy rain is forcing hundreds of people to call for emergency rescues in the area around New Bern, North Carolina, which sits at the confluence of the Nueces and Trent rivers. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
JAMES CITY, NC - SEPTEMBER 14: Volunteers from the Civilian Crisis Response Team help rescue three children from their flooded home September 14, 2018 in James City, United States. Hurricane Florence made landfall in North Carolina as a Category 1 storm and flooding from the heavy rain is forcing hundreds of people to call for emergency rescues in the area around New Bern, North Carolina, which sits at the confluence of the Nueces and Trent rivers. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
JAMES CITY, NC - SEPTEMBER 14: Volunteers from the Civilian Crisis Response Team help rescue three children from their flooded home September 14, 2018 in James City, United States. Hurricane Florence made landfall in North Carolina as a Category 1 storm and flooding from the heavy rain is forcing hundreds of people to call for emergency rescues in the area around New Bern, North Carolina, which sits at the confluence of the Nueces and Trent rivers. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
The roof of a house is seen affected by winds from Hurricane Florence as it hits the town of Wilson, North Carolina, U.S., September 14, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
Children sit and play games in a hotel lobby that has lost its power as Hurricane Florence comes ashore on Wilmington, North Carolina, U.S., September 14, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
MYRTLE BEACH, SC - SEPTEMBER 14: A damaged awning is seen as winds from Hurricane Florence on September 14, 2018 in Myrtle Beach, United States. Hurricane Florence is hitting along the North Carolina and South Carolina coastline bringing high winds and rain. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
JAMES CITY, NC - SEPTEMBER 14: Rescue workers from Township No. 7 Fire Department and volunteers from the Civilian Crisis Response Team use a truck to move people rescued from their flooded homes during Hurricane Florence September 14, 2018 in James City, United States. Hurricane Florence made landfall in North Carolina as a Category 1 storm and flooding from the heavy rain is forcing hundreds of people to call for emergency rescues in the area around New Bern, North Carolina, which sits at the confluence of the Nueces and Trent rivers. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
JAMES CITY, NC - SEPTEMBER 14: Rescue workers from Township No. 7 Fire Department and volunteers from the Civilian Crisis Response Team use a truck to move people rescued from their flooded homes during Hurricane Florence September 14, 2018 in James City, United States. Hurricane Florence made landfall in North Carolina as a Category 1 storm and flooding from the heavy rain is forcing hundreds of people to call for emergency rescues in the area around New Bern, North Carolina, which sits at the confluence of the Nueces and Trent rivers. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
JAMES CITY, NC - SEPTEMBER 14: Volunteer Amber Hersel from the Civilian Crisis Response Team carries 7-year-old Keiyana Cromartie after she and her family were rescued from their flooded home during Hurricane Florence September 14, 2018 in James City, United States. Hurricane Florence made landfall in North Carolina as a Category 1 storm and flooding from the heavy rain is forcing hundreds of people to call for emergency rescues in the area around New Bern, North Carolina, which sits at the confluence of the Nueces and Trent rivers. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
JAMES CITY, NC - SEPTEMBER 14: 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 during Hurricane Florence September 14, 2018 in James City, United States. Hurricane Florence made landfall in North Carolina as a Category 1 storm and flooding from the heavy rain is forcing hundreds of people to call for emergency rescues in the area around New Bern, North Carolina, which sits at the confluence of the Nueces and Trent rivers. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Rain water flooded streets are pictured as Hurricane Florence moves into the Carolinas in Wilmington, North Carolina, U.S., September 14, 2018. REUTERS/Roselle Chen
People walk in the rain water flooded streets as Hurricane Florence moves into the Carolinas in Wilmington, North Carolina, U.S., September 14, 2018. REUTERS/Roselle Chen
Palm trees blow in the wind as the outer bands of Hurricane Florence make landfall on September 14, 2018 in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. - Florence smashed into the US East Coast Friday with howling winds, torrential rains and life-threatening storm surges as emergency crews scrambled to rescue hundreds of people stranded in their homes by flood waters. Forecasters warned of catastrophic flooding and other mayhem from the monster storm, which is only Category 1 but physically sprawling and dangerous. (Photo by Alex Edelman / AFP) (Photo credit should read ALEX EDELMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Mitchell Floor, left, holds a flashlight as Comfort Suites general manager Beth Bratz, center, and employee Dee Branch go to make coffee as Hurricane Florence rages in Wilmington, N.C. Thursday Sept. 14, 2018. The area lost power around 4 a.m. and the facility was running small lights, phone chargers and the coffee machine on a generator. (Chuck Liddy/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS via Getty Images)
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And while North Carolina is susceptible to all of these usual threats that breed in waters left behind by a major storm, the state is also vulnerable to an additional unique — and unpleasant — set of problems.

As a top producer of hogs, North Carolina faces the distinct possibility of getting inundated with nasty pollutants through hog feces that overflow into Florence's floodwaters.

"Those waste materials are going to contain antibiotics, of which hogs are fed very high quantities to speed up their growth rate, in addition to the viruses and bacteria that are naturally found in hog feces," said Rachel Noble, professor for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Institute of Marine Sciences.

Among other things, hog feces can carry campylobacter or salmonella, Noble said — bacteria that if ingested, can cause diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It wouldn't be the first time hogs contributed to flooding woes in North Carolina. In 1999, when Hurricane Floyd slammed into the area, the carcasses of thousands of hogs and other livestock floated through toxic floodwaters that were also laced with feces, pesticide and fertilizer. The stench of the sludge was so overpowering, rescue workers had to put Vick's Vapo-Rub under their nostrils to try to numb their sense of smell as they waded through floodwaters, according to the Associated Press.

The state also has more than two dozen coal ash pits run by Duke Energy, North Carolina's main electricity provider. The ash, a byproduct of coal burned to generate electricity, contains mercury, arsenic and lead. Duke Energy spokesman Bill Norton told the AP earlier in the week that crews would be monitoring water levels at coal ash pits throughout the storm to try to prevent overflow.

Regardless, there are ways to prevent getting sick. Tap water typically gets contaminated by sewage treatment systems and septic systems becoming flooded, destroying their ability to filter out animal or human fecal pathogens; before drinking water or using it to brush teeth, boil it first (local and state health officials may have additional requirements depending on the contaminant).

As for floodwaters, it's important to not let any seep into open wounds — something that can be tricky for people who are escaping a hurricane's wrath.

"Have skin protection if you're in the water," Schlegelmilch said. "Use gloves wherever you can. If you have any kinds of cuts or nicks on your leg, make sure to keep those areas very clean, and just try to avoid exposure to any of it as much as possible."

Those exposed to floodwaters should be particularly vigilant for any signs of vibrio — which is very rare, but can quickly become life-threatening. The bacteria, which is more often associated with consuming raw or undercooked oysters, can cause diarrhea and fever and skin infection, and can enter through an open cut or sore.

"If they have a really red, angry infection that makes them feel really, really bad, you have a situation where they need to seek medical help as quickly as possible," Noble said.

 

DON'T ASSUME WATER IS SAFE TO DRINK

The CDC offers additional recommendations for how to stay safe in floodwaters after a disaster.

Donna Knutson, deputy director for the national center for environmental health with the CDC, warned that bacteria that cause diarrheal illnesses, in the form of salmonella and E. cola, are likely to be present in floodwaters after the storm. She cautioned people who rely on well water not to assume that their water was safe to drink once they return home after Florence.

"Even if your wells don't look like they've been contaminated, talk to your local officials about testing the water after the hurricane is gone," she said.

What's most important for people returning to flooded areas, according to experts, is to not assume that water left over from the storm is OK to consume or wade through without protection, even if days have passed.

"I think it's safe to say if there's standing floodwater, and you're back in the neighborhood, it's not clean," Schlegelmilch said.

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