Helpers in Hurricane Relief
In September 2018, Hurricane Florence wreaked havoc on eastern North Carolina. Thankfully, several individuals across the state have donated time, energy and manpower. We’ll be spotlighting some of these people who are helping in the wake of this disaster.
Eve Honeycutt, a North Carolina Cooperative Extension Livestock Agent in Lenoir and Greene Counties, saw the devastation on the ground in the wake of the storm. “I knew that the biggest needs would be feeding animals that were displaced or lost, and replacing feed and hay that was flooded,” Honeycutt says. “We (needed) a central location that was high and dry where we could receive donations.” With the help of Butch Howard of Down East Farms, Honeycutt established a base camp. Within the first 10 days, she helped coordinate donations of more than $30,000 worth of supplies, including hay, feed, fencing, rubber boots and more. Honeycutt is now spearheading a long-term recovery effort with Duplin County Extension agent Adam Ross. Together, they have been able to identify hay needs of farmers across the southeastern portion of the state and work on longterm pasture renovation.
Melissa Huffman, a North Carolina Cooperative Extension field crops and livestock agent in Onslow County, experienced the direct impact from Hurricane Florence.
Onslow County, which was directly impacted by the storm, needed extensive help in its recovery, and Huffman was more than happy to help the cause. Immediately following the hurricane, Huffman did crop assessments for corn, soybean, cotton and forage products to determine the percentage of lost or damaged crops in the fields. Additionally, she established two disaster distribution centers for livestock and horses and gathered hay, grain, fencing supplies, medication and other donations. Working closely with Eve Honeycutt, the pair was able to work together and combine their respective donations to reach a larger group of people.
“I was extremely impressed with how agencies pulled together to serve our communities,” explains Huffman. “I felt compelled to step up and work with farmers in my county because I love my job and genuinely care for the farmers I have the honor of working for.”
Huffman’s work was extensive, especially when it came to relocating livestock (one bull was found four weeks after the storm!), but the payoff was great for the community.
After having to evacuate herself, Morgan Marshall returned home to Wilmington and saw the devastation left in Florence’s path.
Marshall, an Extension Area Agent in New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender Counties, was forced to leave her home for nearly a week and when she returned she joined forces with friends who had already started to work on relief efforts in the area.
The group worked to provide supplies to a neighborhood who was already lacking in resources before the storm. Many of the neighborhood’s residents require oxygen and rely on free and reduced lunches and without power and school, the area was hurting.
After collecting donations from around town and surrounding areas, the group was able to distribute the goods to area residents and help them begin to get back on their feet.
“Donations included household cleaning supplies, hygiene supplies, packaged foods and some clothes and shoes,” said Marshall. “The experience was extremely humbling and overwhelming.”
Sydney Johnson, a North Carolina Cooperative Extension Agent in Duplin and Sampson Counties, began working on hurricane relief before the storm was even over.
After serving at a local shelter in Sampson County for several days during the storm, Johnson set her sights on recovery in nearby Duplin County, which is located near the North East Cape Fear River and was one of the most heavily affected spots in the area.
Throughout her time in Duplin County, Johnson worked with towns that had been affected by heavy rainfall, with many residents reporting water damage in their homes. The most common request was assistance with mold clean-up. Johnson helped provide publications on how to safely clean mold and worked with Dr. Sarah Kirby, a specialist at NC State University, to provide moisture meters, allowing people measure the amount of moisture in their wood and determine if it was able to be salvaged.
Johnson also helped lead a group of Duplin County 4-H youth to help with storm recovery and the group provided many volunteer services, including sorting clothes to be given to those in need, delivering care packages to first responders and working at the Northeast Distribution Site to organize food and supplies.
John Howard, director of emergency programs for the North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services (NCDA&CS), knows how to respond in a crisis. Following Hurricane Florence, Howard acted as the incident commander for NCDACS and focused specifically on emergency response for farm communities.
Before the storm even made landfall, Howard and his team activated the AG Emergency Operations Center and organized an Incident Management Team to be on hand to respond to requests from farmers, agriculture industry and counties in the impacted area.
In the aftermath of the storm, the team went out on a variety of missions, including animal rescue and feeding, inspecting impacted food and feed businesses and facilities and relief efforts. One of the biggest undertakings was dealing with the nearly 4.2 million poultry killed during the storm. The staff oversaw the composting and disposal of the deceased birds in order to protect public health and prevent the potential for serious environmental consequences. In just over a month, the team completed these efforts at no cost to the growers on heavily impacted farms and created a final compost product that can be safely spread on fields.
“I’ve had a 30-year career in incident management, and Hurricane Florence was one of the most destructive storms I have been involved with,” Howard says. “During my time in the impact area, I witnessed many acts of neighbors helping neighbors, which is a common scene in communities all across North Carolina during times of disaster. I encourage readers that did not suffer heavy damage to continue volunteering in their community and help those less fortunate.”
As superintendent of two NC State Extension research stations in the southeastern part of the state, John Garner was poised to help when Hurricane Florence hit last fall. “I was in the right area, or the wrong area, depending on how you look at it,” Garner says. Immediately after the storm, he got a call from the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which was putting together a response and trying to figure out what was feasible. Because the research stations had pickup trucks, trailers, front-end loaders and other equipment, Garner collaborated with other Extension agents in Duplin, New Hanover and Pender counties to deliver hay and livestock feed to farmers in need, as well as to staff the two research station farms as supply points.
“We could not have met the needs of livestock owners like we did had it not been for John,” says Dr. Mike Yoder, coordinator of emergency programs for NC State Extension, who also helped with the recovery efforts. Garner continued to help with other Extension efforts following the storm, including distributing a large hay donation through the winter months and working with the nonprofit NC Foundation for Soil and Water Conservation to connect farmers with seed to plant in pastures for livestock grazing.
As Hurricane Florence developed into a major threat for North Carolina, NC State Extension played an important role in delivering information and critical updates to over 1,300 agricultural producers, industry representatives and community leaders in the state daily through a curated newsletter.
Justin Moore, the director of marketing and communications for NC State Extension, explains how Extension worked to provide producers with resources and guidance both before and after the storm. Information included tips on farm preparation and animal evacuation, crop and livestock damage assessments, food safety advice, and flooding and cleanup guidance.
In addition to newsletters, email and phone calls, Extension agents worked tirelessly in the field to aid in relief efforts.
“Our agents and specialists have made themselves available day and night for North Carolina and their communities, whether it’s farm visits, damage consultations, assistance with livestock mortalities, or feed and food drives,” Moore says. “Our Extension agents were in the field helping farmers and local communities during and after Hurricane Florence, while many of their own homes were flooded. North Carolina is a better place thanks to their selfless acts and dedication. They’re amazing people.”
Extension’s 4-H’ers also contributed their time and efforts to hurricane relief through collecting donations, cooking and delivering meals to those affected by the storm, distributing pet food to sheltered animals, and entertaining children in the shelters with games and activities.
Even several months after the hurricane, the Extension agents’ work isn’t slowing down any time soon as they continue to provide relief following agricultural losses totaling well over $1 billion.
“At this stage, Extension is still very much involved in recovery efforts and will remain so for the foreseeable future – particularly at the county level, where our farmers will feel the repercussions for years to come,” says Moore. “Extension will be there to assist them the entire way.”