By Eli Meixler
September 26, 2018

Flooding from Hurricane Florence, which battered the Carolinas this month, is so severe that NASA was able to spot darkened, contaminated rivers flowing into the Atlantic Ocean.

Nearly 8 trillion gallons of rain fell on North Carolina during the storm, according to the National Weather Service in Raleigh. That deluge took a devastating toll, swelling rivers and inundating homes.

NASA satellite images released this week reveal just how engorged, and polluted the rivers and other waterways became.

One image, captured on Sept. 19, indicates that “soils, sediments, decaying leaves, pollution, and other debris have discolored the water in the swollen rivers, bays, estuaries, and the nearshore ocean,” according to NASA. The discoloration is visible as navy blue and black tributaries spilling from the coast in unsettling plumes.

A second image from NASA’s Landsat 8 combines visible and infrared imagining to trace the amount “colored dissolved organic matter” (CDOM). CDOM, which includes detritus like leaves, roots and bark, appeared in “high” concentrations even in the ocean around North Carolina’s Cape Lookout.

NASA also released an image of the Trent River, which swelled to an all-time high of 29 feet on Sept. 17, according to the National Weather Service. The river more than doubled “flood stage,” or the height at which a river overflows its banks and causes damage nearby.

Hurricane Florence crashed into the Carolinas on Sept. 14, shattering rainfall records and causing “catastrophic flash flooding” that claimed dozens of lives.

By Sept. 18, sixteen rivers had breached their “flood stage”, according to the North Carolina Department of Public Safety.

Rivers swollen by Florence also poured into industrial facilities like coal ash dumps and hog farm manure pits in North Carolina, raising environmental concerns that the floodwaters could spread pollution across the state.

This week, lawmakers began considering a $1.7 billion relief package to fund recovery efforts after the storm.

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