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Two NC counties clear for swimming. Elsewhere, waters are a health risk, experts say.

Contaminated floodwater swirls with risk for serious infection

Hurricane floodwater often harbors harmful bacteria, most notably Vibrio vulnificus. If contracted, it can lead to serious infection or death.
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Hurricane floodwater often harbors harmful bacteria, most notably Vibrio vulnificus. If contracted, it can lead to serious infection or death.

Waters off much of the North Carolina coast are no longer safe for swimming or even wading due to Hurricane Florence runoff, according to a warning posted by the North Carolina Coastal Federation.

As of Friday, only two coastal counties had been cleared for swimming: Dare, Currituck, say state officials.

Elsewhere, you could risk “severe” illness, including “bacterial infections, earaches, hepatitis, skin rashes and respiratory issues,” said the release posted Wednesday.

“We need to be loud and clear that swimming in coastal waters is currently a threat to public health, safety and welfare,” said a statement issued by Todd Miller, executive director of the nonprofit federation.

A NASA satellite is tracking flooding in the Carolinas after Hurricane Florence and its images show that rivers and streams near the coast and spilling dark, discolored water into the ocean.

Earlier this week, NASA satellites captured images of the pollution runoff filling rivers and floating into coastal waterways, the News & Observer reported.

The North Carolina Recreational Water Quality Division says flood waters contain a mix of septic tank waste, sewer water, petroleum products, chemicals and animal waste.

State officials have been testing waters off popular beaches and announced Monday that bacteria levels at swimming sites in Dare and Currituck counties were at acceptable levels, but “a precautionary water quality advisory remains in effect for all other coastal counties.”

The advisory says North Carolinians, tourists and even fishermen who come into contact with coastal waters “should exercise caution, limit wound exposure and thoroughly wash their hands.”

Biggest hazards sometimes come after the storm.

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“While state officials do not have immediate laboratory confirmation that disease-causing organisms are in the waters, there is an increased chance that contamination is present,” said the advisory.

Despite the warning, federation officials report they have seen people swimming in both the ocean and estuaries.

“The federation strongly advises the public to stay out of the water until it can be tested by the state and deemed safe for recreational uses,” said a statement.

Coastal Review Online reported Tuesday that the coastal towns of Pine Knoll Shores and Emerald Isle were also advising people “to avoid contact with standing water” inside the town limits, or risk illness.

Some towns have resorted to pumping flood waters out of neighborhoods into golf course ponds and man-made canals, the Coastal Review Online reported.

Mark Price: 704-358-5245, @markprice_obs

Over 600 roads remain closed in NC, with waters continuing to rise across the eastern part of the state. NCDOT has been flying over many flooded areas capturing the devastating effect of Hurricane Florence.

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