You know I’m directing a new documentary on Picturing Pigs but do you know why I wanted to do it?

It all goes back about 25 years. I lived on the Pamlico River in eastern North Carolina. The river was absolutely beautiful. It flooded frequently, especially during hurricanes.

There were lots of hurricanes in the 1990s while I lived down east:

  • 1996 – Hurricane Bertha, Category 2
  • 1996 – Hurricane Fran, Category 3
  • 1998 – Hurricane Bonnie, Category 3
  • 1999 – Hurricane Dennis, Category 2
  • 1999 – Hurricane Floyd, Category 2

You can look up statistics about each of these hurricanes: lives lost, rain fall, property damage estimates, etc. You can find pictures from space, on the ground during the storm, and of the recovery. But it is harder to share are the experiences that traumatized all of us. I’m not sure I’ll ever get past it – even though we had it pretty easy, all things considered.


Our family took evacuations seriously because we lived right on the water. (This is a privilege not everyone gets because evacuating requires time, money, and other resources.) We would move our stuff in low-lying areas, secure furniture that could fly away, pack emergency supplies, and leave before for each storm. We knew that the water would rise and block our only evacuation route. But there was one storm that made the water rise so fast that we missed the window of opportunity to evacuate.

I’ll never forget it.

The road was flooded. I was holding one of our cats in my lap. (We normally used the cat carrier but this time we were fleeing in a hurry.) We rear-ended another car, and the cat scratched my arms all up because she was scared. We got out, made sure everyone was ok, turned around, and drove back to the house.

The hurricane kept coming.

We watched the wind and rain as the storm crawled across the river. We watched the water rise and rise. We listened to the wind whip at the house, the windows screaming at the pressure. Huge tree branches snapped and fell. The water kept rising. The water carried our lightweight belongings – things we didn’t have time to move or secure – to the steps and repeatedly thrashed them against the house.

There was nowhere to go.

There was no one coming to rescue us.

We had to ride it out and hope for the best.

There were moments that I truly wondered if this might be our last night. The horrible sound of the storm, darkness, feeling so alone, and counting every hour that passed. It was so scary.

We listened to the radio for updates. (The phones and Internet were different then.) We eventually heard that the storm had passed. The next day, the sun came out. We were safe. And left with a mucky mess to clean up.

When the power came back on, we saw the news.

The storm was devastating.

Some people didn’t make it.

Hurricane Floyd, September 14, 1999, via NOAA


After a hurricane, there’s an unsettling quiet.

Everything pauses, takes stock of what survived. The sun comes back out and the air is cool. Birds slowly start chirping again. People emerge from where they were hunkered down.

Eventually, the noises start up again.

After one of the worst storms, Hurricane Floyd, the aftermath was especially bad. We watched the news. Millions of farm animals died. Pictures of pigs on the rooftops, dead bodies piled high, and water polluted with waste were all over the news. Rolling Stone did an in-depth look at what happened because of the hurricane.

I was sick over it. The terror those animals must have felt during the storm, if it was anything like mine. The senseless death of so many animals. The waste running into the rivers and out to the ocean – sediment plume so dense you could see it from space. It changed me.

Hogs on the roof after Hurricane Floyd in Trenton, N.C. (source)

For years, I witnessed the aftermath. Farmers were devastated at the loss. I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. I kept reading, watching, and researching.

Then another hurricane made landfall.

And it happened again.

And again.


The piles of dead pigs were a wake up call for me 25 years ago.

If another hurricane comes through, will the farm animals survive? Will the lagoons full of waste be dumped into our waterways again? What happens to the farmers when that type of devastation comes knocking the next time?

It all seems connected. I don’t have any of those answers. But I stay curious.

I hope you will stay curious, too.

PS: If you want to see some animal rescues following Hurricane Florence in 2018, check out this short film called Hurricane Heroes by Shawn Bannon and The Atlantic.