Hurricane Florence spread mass destruction across the East Coast last week, and farmed animals were directly in its path. On Monday, Sanderson Farms reported that 1.7 million chickens had died after the storm flooded the company’s supplier farms.
Sanderson added that 30 farms, housing more than 6 million chickens, remained unreachable by feed trucks, and that out of 880 broiler farms, 60 had flooded. Chickens who died ranged from six to 62 days old.
The company is unsure whether the chickens isolated by floodwaters are dead from drowning or alive and suffering without food or fresh water.
By Tuesday night, as other factory farms started to assess damage, the number of perished chickens had doubled to 3.4 million, making this storm far more deadly than Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
Hurricane Florence hit North Carolina—with a population of more than 9 million pigs—the hardest. According to current estimates, more than 5,500 pigs have died.
That number is expected to skyrocket as the week progresses.
And unlike companion animals, who by law must be included in government evacuation plans during natural disasters, farmed animals are afforded no legal protections. So while floodwaters rush into factory farms, animals drown in cages and crates with absolutely no chance of survival. Meanwhile farmers flee with companion animals for safety.
Drowning is one of the worst things imaginable. Submerged underwater, fully conscious, you panic, unable to call for help. After a few minutes, your body doesn’t get enough oxygen and you lose consciousness, causing your airways to relax and your lungs to fill with water. Your body eventually shuts down from brain damage and cardiac arrest. It’s easily one of the most terrifying ways to die.
This isn’t the first time farmed animals have been killed during natural disasters. In fact, a 2016 Washington Post article reports that floods in eastern North Carolina destroyed factory farms after Hurricane Matthew, killing 1.8 million chickens, 2,800 hogs, and other farmed animals.
According to the Post, “In his morning briefing, the governor said that ‘a lot of poultry and animals—a lot, thousands’ already had drowned and that more casualties were still expected.”
As horrifying as this is, animals dying during natural disasters is common. In 1999, Hurricane Floyd dumped 19 inches of rain on North Carolina, killing more than 2 million turkeys, chickens, and other animals trapped in farms.
Hurricane Harvey devastated Texas last summer, leaving an undocumented number of farmed animals dead in its wake. Numerous videos show cows stranded while seeking higher ground to avoid rushing floodwaters.
Drowning in cages, crates, and metal sheds is another reminder of the dangers farmed animals face when cruelly confined and unable to escape fires, floods, or other natural disasters.
Natural disasters are tragic to all beings, but for animals trapped at factory farms, life itself is tragic. Spending much of their lives in filthy, unnatural conditions, many are crammed into cages or crates so small the animals can barely move. Most undergo painful mutilations without painkillers. All are violently killed.
The factory farming industry, which has willingly left trapped farmed animals behind to drown, sees animals as nothing more than commodities. Their tragic, slow, horrific deaths are nothing but “lost profits.” But fortunately, we can end our support of the industries that legally neglect and abuse animals. Make the compassionate choice today and switch to a vegan lifestyle.
Photos: Rick Dove/Waterkeeper Alliance