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First Industrial Layoffs Attributed To Drought Reported

August 5, 1986

Undated (AP) _ The South’s record drought, which has resulted in more than $2.3 billion in agricultural losses, has forced a large paper mill to shut down some operations, threatening at least 100 layoffs, officials said.

In the first industrial layoffs attributed to the drought, Champion International officials announced Monday that 25 employees at its paper mill in Canton, N.C., took optional unpaid leaves or vacations.

A 72-car train, meanwhile, with 1,440 tons of hay donated by Vermont farmers was expected to arrive Wednesday in Macon, Ga., and fodder from Wisconsin and Minnesota in a 100-car train was to be distributed in Birmingham, Ala.

A heat wave that has accompanied the record drought since July has eased, and more precious rain fell in spots Monday, but rainfall remains more than a foot below normal for much of the region.

The paper mill layoffs resulted because the Pigeon River has dropped so low, Champion International officials said. In addition to the 25 leaves, 41 other employees were shifted to maintenance work, said Charles F. Curtis, a company spokesman.

After this week, layoffs could reach more than 100 as the maintenance is completed, said J. Oliver Blackwell, manager of the plant, which normally produces 1,500 tons of pulp and 1,675 tons of paper a day and employs 1,983 people.

Production of pulp has been cut in half and paper production by 35 percent, company officials said.

″They don’t have no other choice but to go down,″ said Woody Smathers, a worker in the generator room. ″If the river keeps going down, they have to keep shutting down just using what little water they’ve got. When the old hen quits laying, you don’t get no eggs.″

The drought also has turned pastures to dust from southern Pennsylvania to Florida. The dwindling grazing area has weakened livestock, making them susceptible to deadly diseases.

To help small farmers in Georgia pay veterinary bills, the Georgia Veterinary Medicine Association received a $10,000 donation Monday, said Dr. J.T. Mercer, the group’s executive director.

″Ten thousand dollars won’t go very far, but like everything else in this drought, every little bit helps,″ said Roland Brooks of the Georgia Cooperative Extension Service.

The money was donated by Henry Schein Inc., a Port Washington, N.Y. medical and veterinary pharmaceutical company.

Most of the participating veterinarians will at least match the contribution, donating as many services as the Schein gift pays for, Mercer said.

Monday’s high temperatures reached the low 90s in South Carolina, but that made the state suffer through its 47th straight day of 90-plus-degree temperatures. Columbus, Ga., warmed to 95, and Atlanta 90 degrees. But North Carolina stayed in the 80s, including 86 at Charlotte, and Elizabeth City and Cape Hatteras on the coast reached only 75.

Outside the drought area, Paducah, Ky., hit a record low of 55 today, and Miami cooled to a record 71. Evansville, Ind., tied its record of 55.

Scattered thunderstorms Monday dropped more than 1 3/4 inches of rain on Savannah, Ga., ands 1.66 inches on Charleston, S.C., but dry conditions prevailed through much of the drought belt, the National Weather Service said.

July was the eighth consecutive month of below-normal rainfall in Georgia. The weather service 90-day forecast in Georgia is above normal temperatures and below normal rainfall.

The Georgia Agriculture Statistics Service, in its weekly crop and weather summary, rated 86 percent of the state’s hay as either poor or very poor. Eighty-five percent of the pastures fell into one of those two categories, as did 72 percent of the corn, and 64 percent of the soybeans and sorghum.

Soil moisture supplies were rated 67 percent very short, 29 percent short and 4 percent adequate by county extension officials.

South Carolina officials scheduled another drought response meeting for Wednesday to discuss further water conservation measures.

The drought also has withered an estimated 100,000 acres of pine seedlings in Georgia, and two-thirds of the 300,000 acres planted this year in Alabama, state officials said.

″There’s no insurance in forestry, so that’s just ’goodbye, money,‴ said Lou Hyman, chief of forest management for the Alabama Forestry Commission.

Estimates of damage to agriculture and forestry include $533.6 million in Georgia, $750 million in Alabama, $400 million in North Carolina, $360 million in South Carolina, $118 million in Maryland, $61.5 million in Virginia, $58 million in Pennsylvania, $40 million in Delaware, and $15 million in West Virginia.

The heat wave has been blamed for 103 deaths since July 1. Twenty-eight deaths were reported in Georgia; 21 in Arkansas; seven in Tennessee; six in Texas; five each in South Carolina and Oklahoma; four each in Alabama, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina; three in Louisiana; two each in Kentucky, Mississippi and Florida; and one each in Virginia and Michigan.

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