Heavy rains from Florence caused a slope to collapse at a coal ash landfill at a closed power station near the North Carolina coast, Duke Energy says.
Duke spokeswoman Paige Sheehan said late Saturday about 1,530 cubic metres of ash were displaced at the L. V. Sutton Power Station outside Wilmington and that contaminated runoff likely flowed into the plant's cooling pond.
The company has not yet determined whether the weir that drains the lake was open or if contamination may have flowed into the Cape Fear River. That's roughly enough ash to fill 180 dump trucks.
Florence slammed into the North Carolina coast as a large hurricane Friday, dumping nearly 1 metre of rain and swelling the region's rivers. The resulting flooding forced swift-water rescues and left several people dead.
Sheehan said the company had reported the incident to state and federal regulators "out of an abundance of caution."
The storm dropped 10 to 18 inches of rain along the North Carolina coast.
Source: Associated Press
The coal-fired Sutton plant was retired in 2013 and the company has been excavating millions of tons of ash from old waste pits and removing it to safer lined landfills constructed on the property. The grey ash left behind when coal is burned contains toxic heavy metals, including arsenic, lead and mercury.
Duke has been under intense scrutiny for the handling of its coal ash since a drainage pipe collapsed under a waste pit at an old plant in Eden in 2014, triggering a massive spill that coated 110 kilometres of the Dan River in grey sludge.
In a subsequent settlement with federal regulators, Duke agreed to plead guilty to nine Clean Water Act violations and pay $102 million in fines and restitution for illegally discharging pollution from coal-ash dumps at five North Carolina power plants. The company is in the process of closing all of its coal ash dumps by 2029.
Spokeswoman Megan S. Thorpe at the state's Department of Environmental Quality said state regulators will conduct a thorough inspection of the site as soon as safely possible.
"DEQ has been closely monitoring all coal ash impoundments that could be vulnerable in this record breaking rain event," Thorpe said. She added that the department, after assessing the damage, will "hold the utility accountable for implementing the solution that ensures the protection of public health and the environment."
The death toll of Florence now stands at 15, 10 in North Carolina and five in South Carolina.
A driver died Sunday (local time) when a pickup truck struck an overpass support beam in Kershaw County, South Carolina, state troopers said.
Michael Dalton Prince, 23, died after the truck he was riding in lost control on a flooded two-lane road in Georgetown County, South Carolina, said Coroner Kenny Johnson.
The driver and another passenger escaped after the truck landed upside down in a flooded ditch.
Authorities said 63-year-old Mark Carter King and 61-year-old Debra Collins Rion of Loris, South Carolina, died of carbon monoxide poisoning from running a generator indoors.
That follows the deaths from Saturday when a mother and her 8-month-old child were killed when a massive tree crushed their brick house Friday in Wilmington, North Carolina
"It was very dark, all you could see was water and wind, you couldn't really figure out what was going on out there," a neighbour said.
Source: Associated Press
An 81-year-old man died while trying to evacuate Wayne County, North Carolina, a 78-year-old man was electrocuted in the rain while trying to connect extension cords for a generator in Lenoir County, North Carolina, a 77-year old man died after he went outside to check on his hunting dogs and was blown down by strong winds
Three people died in Duplin County, North Carolina, because of flash flooding and swift water on roadways
Amber Dawn Lee, 61 also died Saturday when the vehicle she was driving struck a tree near the town of Union, South Carolina
Authorities say the storm did not cause some other deaths that occurred during Florence in North Carolina: a woman who died of undetermined causes in a shelter, and a woman who suffered a heart attack at home during the storm.