Isabel damage toll continues to mount

Virginia’s Gov. Mark Warner called the hurricane “the worst storm in a generation.” President Bush declared Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Washington, D.C. and North Carolina eligible for federal disaster relief.

In North Carolina, Isabel did more than $152 million damage to agriculture, according to a preliminary tally of 35 counties. An already-late cotton crop sustained the most damage at more than $53 million. Soybeans had more than $26 million of damage; tobacco, $9 million; peanuts, $8 million; and corn, $6 million.

Fruits and vegetables took a hit of more than $13 million. Livestock producers were spared the huge losses they experienced in 1999 hurricanes, but still chicken producers lost $162, 554. Almost $34 million in damage occurred to farm structures. (An update is available on the North Carolina Department of Agriculture Web site,

The devastation affected huge numbers of people in eastern North Carolina and Virginia. More people died in Isabel than from the Category 5 hurricane Andrew in 1992. Twenty-three people died in Virginia; at least seven Maryland.

Houses were destroyed and people’s lives uprooted. In Bertie County, N.C., almost 80 percent of homes were damaged. Bertie County had damages upwards of $15 million. Hyde County, N.C., had damages of more than $13 million. Four North Carolina counties had damages of more than $10 million. Twelve-foot storm surges slammed Edenton, N.C.

Out in the field, county Extension agents worked to help assess the damage.

“We’ve been going house to house for 10 miles checking to see if water had got in the electrical receptacles in houses,” said Mac Gibbs, a Hyde County Extension agent.

“We had 18 inches to 2 feet more flooding than we had with Floyd,” Gibbs says. “The crops look like they’ve been scorched.”

He was concerned about boll rot and seed sprout in the cotton in the aftermath of the storm, which passed over the largest production areas of cotton, peanuts and soybeans in North Carolina before heading into Virginia and the Washington, D.C. area.

A week after the hurricane hit, cotton farmers attended the Blackland Cotton Tour on the farm of Gary Respess in Beaufort County in eastern North Carolina. Cotton on Respess’ farm was tangled from high winds.

Beaufort County Extension agent Gaylon Ambrose said the damage in his county wasn’t anything compared to one county over in Hyde. “There, it looks like a war zone.”

Many Virginia farmers were reeling a week after the hurricane passed. Heavy rains added problems.

“The soybeans should be fine, but the cotton is all tangled together from the wind,” Billy Gwaltney told the Virginia Farm Bureau. From 6 to 8 inches of water on his peanuts had the Isle of Wight County Farm Bureau president concerned about diseases.

“But cotton is the biggest concern right now. And, of course, who knows when we can get back into the fields.”

What’s going to have to be done to cotton after the storm is a big unknown,” says Isle of Wight Extension agent Glenn Rountree. The crop was up to two weeks behind schedule when the hurricane hit. With cotton leaning sideways in the field, farmers ran the risk of increasing the damage by getting tractors in the field to defoliate.

Damage was sustained to peanut infrastructure, said Bob Sutter, CEO of the North Carolina Peanut Producers Association, who reported the Wakefield Peanut Co. warehouse on U.S. Route 460 was destroyed.

Information disaster assistance for farmers and ranchers is available at the county Farm Service Agency.

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