More than four months after Hurricane Florence battered the state, rivers of waste are still flowing to landfills in eastern North Carolina in volumes that their managers say they have never before seen. Uprooted trees, broken furniture, sodden carpets, soggy sheet rock, smashed fencing, crushed carports and moldy clothing make up the mix of items destroyed by the September storm and subsequent flooding.

The trash piling up at some sites may not be disposed of until summer — or perhaps not until next year. Caravans of trucks are bringing new waste daily, and solid waste workers are logging major overtime to keep up with the load.

“This is to me — and I’ve only been through three major storms — the most natural-disaster related waste generation I’ve ever seen,” said Joe Suleyman, environmental management director in coastal New Hanover County, in a phone interview. “There have been days I was stressed more than normal. You’re pushing your people really hard. You can’t see an end in sight.”

Hurricanes are commonly measured by wind speeds and cresting river levels, as well as by lost lives and financial losses. Landfills provide yet another measure of a storm’s fury: the sheer volume of discarded property and demolition debris.

Health Hazards

Soaked in flood bacterial-infested waters and festering with mold, the hurricane’s aftereffects are handled by professional sanitation workers as well as untrained homeowners who slosh in dirty water, rip out carpets and drag out household goods marinated in the cafe-au-lait swirls of cresting rivers. A half-dozen health departments in eastern North Carolina said this week they don’t know of any reports of people becoming ill from the exposure, but the pros who come in contact with hurricane wreckage know to protect themselves.

Scott Hair, who owns his own remodeling business in Wilmington, said severe reactions to mold have taught him to require his employees to wear masks and gloves. He was at the New Hanover Landfill in Wilmington on Thursday, his third visit that week, dumping 900 pounds of lumber, sheet rock and other parts of a house that was destroyed by a felled tree and inhabited by rats, mice and a raccoon.

“You get the migraine feeling, you have a hard time breathing, you’re constantly coughing,” Hair said, recalling the effects of several days of mold exposure. “We tell everyone now to wear masks and protective gear when there’s mold involved.”

An untold amount of storm waste awaits haulers at 142 temporary disaster holding sites set up in eastern North Carolina to manage the overflow, Ed Mussler, chief of the Solid Waste Section within the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality, said in a phone interview.

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