(Bloomberg) -- The heavy winds that accompanied Florence tore tobacco leaves from plants and blew cotton lint onto the ground in a major producing area of North Carolina, according to one eyewitness.

As much as a fifth of those two crops still in fields may have been lost, said Norman Harrell, the local director of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Wilson County. His estimate was based on what he saw himself as well as reports from farmers.

The limited duration of power outages provided the one bright spot, Harrell said. Crops such as tobacco and sweet potatoes that had already been harvested before the storm were otherwise at risk of being spoiled.

The state is the top U.S. producer for tobacco crops and fears had mounted beforehand that Florence could leave a trail of destruction in its wake with losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars for farmers.

North Carolina is also home to more hogs than any other state beside Iowa. Smithfield Foods Inc., which closed two sites in advance including its Tar Heel slaughterhouse, the world’s biggest for pigs, said there were no initial reports of any damage to plants.

“We’re in the middle of assessing the extent of the impact across our farms,” Diana Souder, a company spokeswoman, said by email earlier on Saturday. “It’ll take some time before we’ll be able to visit every site” given power outages and blocked roads, she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Justina Vasquez in New York at jvasquez57@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: David Marino at dmarino4@bloomberg.net, Stephen Cunningham, Joe Carroll

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