By Michael Winter, USA TODAY
More than 15,000 large, semi-aquatic rodents killed by Hurricane Isaac have washed ashore on Mississippi beaches, creating a cleanup nightmare, according to news reports.
Some beaches in Hancock County have closed while front-end loaders and workers in hazmat suits slowly collect the bloated, rotting carcasses of dead nutria, known as swamp rats, the Associated Press says. In Harrison County, crews collected and removed nearly 16 tons of dead animals from beaches over the weekend, and local officials said they were still washing ashore today or floating on the Gulf of Mexico surface.
The Sun Herald reports that a federal contractor, U.S. Environmental Services, is handling the cleanup of an estimated 16,000 to 18,000 dead nutria and other animals killed by the storm. The carcasses are being dumped in a landfill rated for household garbage.
The stinking, stomach-churning work has proved too much for some; a half-dozen crews quit Sunday morning, the paper says.
"They're separating the bodies from the grass and piling them up," said Hancock County Supervisor David Yarborough. "They have equipment today. It's moving. "But it's only getting worse. As they're picking them up, they're busting open."
"That's the reason I wouldn't even attempt this with county people," he added. "You really should be certified and trained in hazardous waste."
County crews attempted a similar cleanup after Hurricane Gustav, "and we had people getting sick; wound up buying everybody's clothes. Our people just aren't trained for this," Yarborough said, endorsing the federal government's role in such work.
The rodents began washing up Friday.
The web-footed nutria, which are considered a pest along the Gulf Coast, are native to South America but arrived in the United States in the 1930s. They are prolific breeders: A female averages about five babies per litter, can deliver up to 13 at a time and can have up to three litters per year.