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Southeast Gets No Relief From Heat : Farmers Reel as Drought Crop Losses Reach $700 Million

July 21, 1986|From Associated Press

There was no respite Sunday from the 2-week heat wave in the Southeast as temperatures hovered around 100, and sporadic thunderstorms did little to ease the region's drought that has caused crop damage estimated at up to $700 million.

"The drought is destroying wealth," said Chris Alstrin of the First Union Bank in Charlotte, N.C. "If you're a farmer, you could be dying right now, and if you're a banker, that's not good either. A major event such as this drought is going to reduce everybody's income."

Temperatures sizzled above 100 across much of Georgia, including a record 104 at Augusta and 106 at Macon, with humidity in the state easing from well above 50% to between 30% and 40%.

45 Days at 90 or More

Columbus, Ga., hit a record 102 degrees, its 45th straight day of highs at 90 or above. Other records included 100 at Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C.; 98 at Daytona Beach, Fla., and 104 at Memphis, Tenn. Nashville topped its record of 100 with 102 and Atlanta beat its record of 98 with 100.

Across the nation, normally hot Phoenix, Ariz., was expected to hit 107, but with humidity of only 15% to 20%.

The National Weather Service said parts of the Southeast could expect some relief this week but that temperatures would return to 100 by Thursday.

Heat has been blamed on the deaths this month of at least 25 people--nine in Georgia, four in North Carolina, four in Indiana, two in Missouri, two in Illinois, and one each in South Carolina, Virginia, Louisiana and Michigan.

Concern for Elderly Urged

"It would be nice for people to encourage their friends to take care of any elderly people they know during this heat," said Dr. Brad Collins of the Charleston County, S.C., medical examiner's office.

Scattered thunderstorms provided brief respites Saturday in parts of North Carolina and Alabama, but most spots got only a trace of rain. Montgomery, Ala., however, got 1.51 inches of rain during a storm that triggered 31 fires, more than 50 traffic accidents and left more than 2,000 households without electricity, city officials said.

Worst Drought

The weather service said that while sporadic storms had replenished water supplies in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia, that did little to help farmers ravaged by the worst spring drought on record.

"Most of it just runs off," said forecaster Joe Cefaratti.

Crop Losses Estimated

Crop losses in Virginia are estimated at nearly $61.5 million, and the Georgia Department of Agriculture estimated damage at $140 million.

Crop losses in South Carolina are estimated at $100 million, and Gov. Richard W. Riley said he would seek a federal disaster declaration for at least two-thirds of the state. Some North Carolina experts say $400 million of the state's $4-billion annual farm income may already be lost.

Two Air Force cargo jets delivered 60 tons of hay donated by Illinois farmers to their counterparts in South Carolina on Saturday, with more on the way today, and the first truckload of donated Indiana hay left Saturday.

Neighbors Help

"It's just simply one of those wonderful cooperative kinds of things that farmers have traditionally done--maybe it's a neighbor whose barn burns down, his neighbors come to provide help," said Indiana Gov. Robert D. Orr.

The drought in northern Florida threatens to devastate many farmers who have been hard-hit by low prices and high costs.

"I know of people that have sold all their land just to apply to their debts," said Florida Cooperative Extension Service agent Edsel Thomaston in Walton County. "People that have been farming for three generations, their sons are looking for other employment and it goes on and on."

Two-Day Survey

A U.S. Department of Agriculture task force planned a two-day survey this week of parched farms in Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas.

"I've got a lot to show them," cattle farmer V. C. Martin, in southern Montgomery County, Ala., said. He said that while nearby Montgomery had its storm, "we didn't even get enough to get in the rain gauge."

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