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Withering Drought Conditions Leave Some Farmers With Total Loss in Southeastern U.S.

Aired June 15, 2000 - 1:22 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: The southeastern United States is suffering from what the government calls "exceptional" drought conditions. We're sure that the farmers know about that. That is the highest category for a drought.

CNN's Eric Horng has been looking at the effect this dry weather is having on farmers, and Eric joins us now.

ERIC HORNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Natalie, believe it or not, we are here at the bottom of Lake Iamonia here in north Florida, and a rather dry bottom it is. About three years ago in this particular area of the lake, the water level probably would have come up to my chin, or possibly even higher. But today it's a much different story. The water has receded about 100 yards over my shoulder in that direction. And in the opposite direction, about 50 yards away, is the boat ramp where boats were designed to enter this lake.

So there has been some significant drying here at Lake Iamonia, and it's just one illustration of how severe this drought is.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): For farmers Gene and Kirk Brock, a walk through their Florida corn field has become an increasingly frustrating experience.

KIRK BROCK, FARMER: You look back on the time that you put into the crop, planting the crop, and fertilizing it, cultivating the weeds out, and it's like you just spent all that time for nothing.

HORNG: The Brocks call this year's crop a "total loss," corn stalks normally seven-feet high in June stunted by an unusually brutal drought.

GENE BROCK, FARMER: When it turns out like this, you know, you just hope for a better tomorrow is all I can really do.

HORNG: It's a similar story throughout the Northeast, the region desperate for rain, parched by a drought the likes of which some states haven't seen in decades. In Alabama, a rain deficit of 17 inches in some areas, the governor declaring a state of emergency for at least 19 counties. In Florida, the lack of rain drying pastures, leaving cattle hungry but feeding wildfires in the northern and central parts of the state. For the last few weeks, officials have been keeping an eye on some 200 hot spots every day.

STEVE SEIBERT, FLORIDA DEPT. OF COMMUNITY AFFAIRS: There's a drought index that tops out at 800. At 800, you're basically a desert. We've got at least a third of the counties in Florida are above 700 as we speak right now, so on their way to being a desert.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HORNG: What's causing all of this? Weather experts say it's La Nina, the weather phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean cooling those waters, affecting weather patterns and giving the Southeast its driest spring in decades.

Natalie, back to you.

ALLEN: Eric, how much rain do they need there to even make a dent in this problem?

HORNG: Well, officials are really looking for any amount at this point. But really they're looking for a gradual, consistent type of rain over a period of weeks and months; kind of a normalization of the rain pattern as opposed to some sort of tropical activity or a hurricane, the reason being is the ground here is so dry that it probably would not be able to sustain a large volume of rain in a short period of time. Probably flooding would occur as a result.

But at this point, officials are looking for any type of rain, preferably a consistent, gradual rain over a period of months. But many farmers here saying that it is just too late for this year; their crop is already lost.

ALLEN: And you know when people want an active hurricane season that it's pretty desperate out there.

Eric Horng, thanks so much.

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