Tons of donated hay were loaded aboard trains yesterday to be hauled to the Southeast, where drought and heat have ruined crops and dried up reservoirs.
Agricultural losses throughout the Southeast are estimated at up to $1.9 billion. And the deaths of 48 people have been blamed on an accompanying heat wave, which is producing highs in the 90s after two weeks around 100.
Volunteers in Indianapolis finished loading about 1,800 tons of hay on an 80-boxcar CSX Corp. train headed for Columbia, S.C. The hay, donated by 128 farmers in 50 Indiana counties, is valued at $145,000.
"This is what happens when people are victims of things they can't control. It brings people together," Indiana Lt. Gov. John Mutz said before the train, bearing a "Hoosier Hay Express" banner, pulled out.
Another train will go to Atlanta, and other boxcars are being loaded around the country for other trains. Railroads are providing the trains free, and union crews are donating time to run them.
Several railroads, such as Burlington Northern and the Union Pacific, that operate outside the Southeast through farm areas in the Midwest and West that have not been hit by drought, also have offered free movement of hay-filled boxcars.
"This is the least a rancher can do to help another rancher," said George Reynolds, who got up early Saturday with about 40 other volunteers to help load 23 Burlington Northern boxcars at Tulsa.
Tons of hay donated by farmers from New England to the Plains already has been moved into the Southeast by trucks and Air Force cargo planes.
But herds in North Carolina alone consume about 7,690 tons of hay a day, and many farmers will need out-of-state hay until spring, said Jim Oliver, chairman of the state's Drought Task Force.
"The donations are appreciated, but they're largely symbolic," said North Carolina State University spokesman Tom Byrd. "The chances of getting enough hay to meet our needs are slim. The needs are just massive."
Scattered thunderstorms dampened parts of the region again during the night, with 0.77 of an inch of rain at Greensboro, N.C., the National Weather Service said. But rainfall over much of the region remains 10 to 20 inches below normal this year.
Every government in the Atlanta metropolitan area, where the rainfall deficit is more than 14 1/2 inches, has imposed water restrictions. Flovilla, Ga., turned off its water system from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and yesterday to allow its 100,000-gallon tank to refill.