Manure lagoons are about as pleasant as they sound—vast open-air ponds of manure located next to the many hog farms near the North Carolina coast. With Hurricane Florence set to wallop the area as a Category 4 hurricane, there are fears the ponds could overflow or even collapse amid extremely heavy rain, sending vast amounts of manure from thousands of farms into rivers and contaminating groundwater. Experts say the lagoons should be able to handle about 3 feet of rain, but hog farmers, who have been trying to pump manure out of the ponds and spray it on fields as fertilizer, aren't convinced. "We try to pump down as much as we can, but after that, it's kind of in God's hands," farmer Marlowe Vaughan tells NPR. "We're kind of at the mercy of the storm."
Industrial waste, including toxic ash from power plants, could also be spread by flooding from the massive storm, which has caused mandatory evacuations of coastal areas in both Carolinas and Virginia, the AP reports. President Trump has declared an emergency in the three states and says the government is "as ready as anybody has ever been." The News & Observer reports that the storm's path shifted early Wednesday and it is now bearing down on southern North Carolina and northern South Carolina, where it could dump up to 40 inches of rain in places. Landfall is expected late Thursday or early Friday, and the National Hurricane Center fears the storm "will slow considerably or stall, leading to a prolonged and exceptionally heavy and dangerous rainfall event Friday-Sunday." (Read more Hurricane Florence stories.)