Venturing to the Gulf Coast in the days after Hurricane Katrina was a risky proposition, but Dr. Larry M. Kornegay intended to learn firsthand how best to help the animals and stricken veterinarians. The AVMA Executive Board member represents the District VIII states of Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas.
The disaster was driven home for Dr. Kornegay in the losses suffered by his longtime friend, Dr. Robert C. Gros, current president of the Louisiana VMA. Even so, another hurricane would soon loom even closer to home for Dr. Kornegay.
Dr. Kornegay set out by car from his home in Houston for Baton Rouge, La., where Dr. Gros was staying with family members. Arriving Sunday, Sept. 4, Dr. Kornegay spent four days with his friend, driving to locations in Louisiana and Mississippi.
The first evening, they drove to Gonzales, La., 22 miles southeast of Baton Rouge, to the Lamar-Dixon Equine Exposition Center, where the Louisiana SPCA had set up an emergency animal rescue center. About a hundred small animals and some cattle had arrived that day, along with mules and horses that had pulled tourist carriages in New Orleans. A component of AVMA Veterinary Medical Assistance Team-5 had begun an assignment at Lamar-Dixon that day.
Much of Monday was spent sifting through the rubble that had been the Gros home. This was the dream home Dr. Gros and his family had recently moved into, south of Kiln, Miss., about 10 miles from the coast. Living in this home on the Jordan River had made the daily 50-mile drive to his clinic in Chalmette, La., worthwhile.
That day, they also visited Dr. John DeVun, a former associate of Dr. Gros, in Mandeville, La., a community north of Lake Pontchartrain. Dr. DeVun and his wife had stayed at their clinic to care for some 40 pets that had been entrusted to them prior to the storm. They had been without electricity or water during most of the ordeal.
Another reason for Dr. Kornegay's trip was to attend an emergency meeting the LVMA executive board had called for Tuesday. The association wanted to create a mechanism by which the Louisiana Veterinary Medical Foundation could collect and distribute Katrina-related donations in a restricted way. The LVMA also wanted to identify members affected by the disaster and devise a way to help relocate patients in clinics that were destroyed or disabled.
"One of the areas where I was able to help was in deciding the fashion by which they wanted to restrict donated monies to be utilized for disaster relief," Dr. Kornegay said. A few days earlier, he had taken part in an AVMA Executive Board teleconference preparatory to establishing an American Veterinary Medical Foundation fund (see page 1378), and that gave him useful background. "The LVMA decided to word it in such a way that funds could be restricted for disaster relief but not only for Katrina. If money remained, it could be utilized in the future for other problems." (The Spirit of Veterinary Medicine Hurricane Katrina Animal Relief Fund can be accessed at www.vin.com/Donate/.)
After the LVMA meeting, Drs. Kornegay and Gros drove to the campus of Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge and spent some time at the AgCenter's John M. Parker Coliseum, a temporary animal shelter where veterinarians, veterinary technicians, and other volunteers were caring for canine and feline evacuees.
Before returning home that evening, they went back to Mississippi to salvage more items from Dr. Gros' home, and then slipped down to the coast. "It was just a devastating sight. It was unlike anything I'd been prepared for or had seen on the television," Dr. Kornegay said. Where mansions once stood, only marble slabs and hardwood floors remained. Vegetation was totally shredded and brown from saltwater.
On Wednesday, Sept. 7, Dr. Kornegay's final day in the area, they maneuvered around jammed expressways and checkpoints, making their way to the emergency clinic Dr. Gros manages in Metairie, located in Jefferson Parish, west of New Orleans. En route, they heard that a portion of the VMAT-5 team was at a temporary animal shelter set up at the Jefferson Feed Store. They stopped there and found Dr. James Gaynor and veterinary technician Amanda Steele triaging small animal evacuees. After the animals were examined, most were being transported to Lamar-Dixon or Parker Coliseum.
"We asked them if they needed anything, and they said dewormers, because they had been giving dewormers as prophylaxis," Dr. Kornegay said. "The emergency clinic was four or five miles away. We went over there and found it had not sustained any floodwaters, but the electricity had been off for a week." He and Dr. Gros discarded the contents of the freezer and took the supply of dewormers to Jefferson Feed.
It wasn't until after Dr. Kornegay returned to Texas that Dr. Gros was able to get back into his clinic in Chalmette, in St. Bernard Parish. As feared, the clinic was destroyed. The roof and exterior walls had caved in, and at its peak, the water had risen above the roof. Chemicals and oil polluted the environment. Most if not all of his clients and patients also lost their homes, and many of the clients were now jobless.
Later in September, Dr. Kornegay was facing his own hurricane threat as Rita bore down on the Gulf Coast, and Galveston and Houston were evacuated. In advance, his wife, Dr. Chris Kornegay—his practice partner, and her sister Debi made two trips south to Matagorda Bay to transfer family-owned horses to higher ground. The Kornegays and daughter Koral drove to Fort Worth on Sept. 21 for TVMA leadership meetings and other functions being held in conjunction with the Southwest Veterinary Symposium. The return trip Sept. 24 took 10 hours instead of the usual four because of snarled expressways, but there had been minimal damage and power interruption at their small animal clinic and home, where son Kyle had remained. Dr. Kornegay said, "We were so fortunate here compared with so many just a short distance east of Houston."