Hurricane Isabel cut a huge swath of destruction through North Carolina and Virginia, taking 38 lives, knocking out power for more than a week in some areas and damaging crops and property.
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 alone, the Category 2 hurricane did more than $152 million damage to agriculture, according to a preliminary tally of 35 counties issued on Sept. 26 by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture. An already-late cotton crop sustained the most damage at more than $53 million. Soybeans had more than $26 million of damage. Tobacco had losses of more than $9 million; peanuts, more than $8 million; and corn, more than $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's Web site at www.ncagr.com.)
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 more than $13 million. Four North Carolina counties had damages of more than $10 million. Twelve-foot surges slammed Edenton, N.C.
Out in the field, county Extension agents worked to help assess the damage. Southeast Farm Press caught up with Mac Gibbs, a Hyde County Extension agent, on his cell phone six days after the hurricane hit.
“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.
The storm passed over the largest production areas of cotton, peanuts and soybeans in North Carolina
Damage was sustained to peanut infrastructure, said Bob Sutter, CEO of the North Carolina Peanut Producers Association.
A week after the hurricane hit, cotton farmers attended the Blackland Cotton Tour on the farm of Gary Respess in Beaufort County. The cotton 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.”
Once Isabel came ashore, she continued on a path through eastern North Carolina and into Virginia.
Many Virginia farmers were reeling a week after the hurricane passed. Heavy rains added to problems.
Information on disaster assistance for farmers and ranchers is available at the county Farm Service Agency.