North Carolina’s record floods could have unexpected environmental consequences

Hurricane Matthew swept across the southeastern seaboard of the United States this weekend, bringing intense rainfall to North Carolina and triggering record flooding across much of the state. But as the rains subside and clearer weather rolls in, some environmentalists are raising alarm bells about the potential for yet another environmental disaster.

Over the weekend, Hurricane Matthew — which had been downgraded to a tropical cyclone by Sunday — brought as much as 18 inches of rainfall to parts of North Carolina, causing rivers across the state to reach dangerously high levels. The record-breaking floods have already damaged thousands of homes and left thousands of residents stranded. The state also suffered the highest number of causalities in the U.S. from the storm— nearly half of the 23 people killed lived in North Carolina.

As of Tuesday, the rains have stopped and forecasts look clear, but North Carolina residents could see more repercussions from the record-high water levels: Environmentalists in the state are warning that cresting rivers have the potential to flood facilities storing animal waste or toxic coal ash, potentially sending those waste products into rivers and groundwater.

Aerial imagery released by Waterkeeper Alliance show some inactive coal ash ponds currently underwater, with others very close to rivers that are expected to crest in the coming days.

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