New York has been hit by Irish Famine disease.

The destructive fungal blight is wiping out tomato and potato plants across the state and much of the Northeast.

The technical terms is "late blight," but it's the same disease that caused the Irish Potato Famine in the 1840s.

This is the first time that late blight has been seen so early in the growing season.

And food and plant experts say it's the most destructive infection they've seen.


For instance, the exclusive Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills expects to lose most of its 1,500 outdoor tomato plants.

In Putnam county, a local community garden has lost all its tomato crops. "All of our tomatoes have been lost: totally, completely gone. They die in a week - it's just horrible. Once the leaves turn yellow, they're goners," said Dianne Olsen.

The blight, which is being blamed on the unseasonal cool damp weather, spreads like wildfire and there are fears that it could spread to teh thousands of farm crops on Long Island.

The big box stores Wal-Mart, Home Depot KMart and Lowes have issued a $1 million recall of possibly infected tomato plants and experts believe the current outbtreak could have originated there.

Meanwhile, New York shoppers and gardeners are being warned to destroy any affected plants because they could impact commercial farms.

The fungus, Phytophthora infestans, is extremely dangerous because the spores are dispersed by the wind, potentially destroying nearby commercial crops.

Once the spores arrive, there is no way to prevent the spread of the disease.

Farmers are now praying for two weeks of dry weather as the disease spreads rapidly in damp cool weather.

New York is the latest of several states to report late blight which is in nearly every East Coast state along with Ohio and Virginia.

Late blight caused the deaths of more than 1 million people in Ireland in the 19th century because it totally destroyed the potato crop. More than 1.5 million Irish emigrated in the worst case of famine seen in Europe.

"Ever since IrishCentral broke the story about the Famine blight appearing in the States, we have seen intense audience interest from survivalist sites and even from religious groups that are watching for signs of the Apocalypse," said IrishCentral General Manager Kevin Hayes. "It's a story that has really touched a 'what if' nerve."