Oklahoma response reflects preparedness
The EF5 tornado that shattered Moore, Okla., on May 20 struck an area heavily populated with horses.
State veterinarian Dr. Rod Hall said, “The area where it hit was mainly horse farms. Around 60 horses were hauled out of that area and taken to veterinary clinics or facilities, but a number of horses were injured severely and had to be euthanized. Close to 160 horses didn’t survive. We had a number of equine practitioners who were involved early.”
One of them was Dr. Michael Wiley. “The tornado was about 5 miles from us,” he said. “Unfortunately, it went through a big swath of my practice area.”
||Three weeks after the Moore tornado, Dr. Michael Wiley, assisted by Thomas Keith, cleans a wound on foal Yancy in preparation for treatment. (Photos by Anne Wiley)
That day, he heard about the tornado on the radio while on a call east of the stricken area and started working his way toward Celestial Acres Training Center, where he knew 120 horses were in training.
“When I finally got in, nothing was left,” he said. “Quite a few horses were still standing; most were beyond help. I had six or seven bottles of euthanasia solution. A small animal veterinarian was walking by, and I got five or six more bottles from her.”
He sent her to attend to 40 other horses before heading back to his clinic, Equi-Center Veterinary Hospital in Norman, with an injured horse. Clients were calling, trying futilely to make their way to his clinic with trailers carrying their injured horses, so Dr. Wiley drove as close as possible to the disaster area and transported two loads back to his clinic. That night, he was assisted by several local veterinarians, some from racetracks. They included Drs. Joe Boecker, Clayton McCook, and Christy Pitts, along with some staff they and Dr. Joe Carter provided.
Dr. Hall said 50 or 60 cattle and a few goats and pigs were initially missing, but most of the cattle were located and returned to their owners.
Oklahoma VMA headquarters is on the opposite side of town from the tornado site. Executive Director Jana Black said the OVMA was working with the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and when USDA personnel left May 29, the association served as a clearinghouse, finding and scheduling veterinarians to work the shelters.
||The day after the tornado, Dr. Wiley attends to an injured horse, assisted at right by veterinary technology student Sadie Millsap.
Dr. Hall of the state agriculture department oversaw it all, including the triage area.
“We don’t know exact (casualty) numbers, and we never will,” he said. “Between the facilities that were housing animals, we helped set up a triage area very close to the worst area of the storm and ran close to 300 animals through that area over about an eight- or nine-day period.
“Around 30 of those animals were injured seriously enough that they were taken to one of four local veterinary hospitals that offered to take care of them. Around 250 were taken to shelters, where veterinarians were doing triage. Then, there were a fairly good number whose owners dropped them off, we provided medical care, and they went home. Altogether, about 500 animals were seen by veterinarians.”
Oklahoma State University’s Center for Veterinary Health Sciences treated victims at no charge to their owners.
Black said, “Nothing was left standing in some neighborhoods. If a dog was outside, it had the opportunity to possibly escape the tornado. If it was inside, it was sometimes in rubble; some were injured, some deceased.”
An adoption event was planned for late June for pets displaced by the tornado.
“Eight veterinary clinics were in the tornado area,” Black said. “It’s miraculous only one got damaged. The rest were out of electricity or water for a while. Some hooked up generators so they could take in animals—the majority were dogs—if their clients could get them in.”
The damaged facility was Dr. Kristi Scroggins’ predominantly small animal practice, Scroggins Animal Hospital. The Moore tornado passed about a block north, pelting the hospital with debris and leaving it without power all week.
Eleven days later, on May 31, storms blew through, tearing off the hospital’s roof.
“It was probably straight-line wind that took our roof off and flooded the building,” Dr. Scroggins said. There was an inch of water throughout the hospital, but no animals were injured, no equipment was damaged, and roofers arrived the next day to prevent more water damage and enable them to reopen. Dr. Hall said the state was not asked to provide additional resources following the second tornado.
“A few displaced animals were taken care of through local animal shelters. One of our largest livestock auction markets took a severe hit and had several head of cattle killed. Luckily, most of the area impacted was more rural so the damage was minimal to livestock,” he said.
The state’s level of preparedness meant plenty of volunteers and state and federal personnel to respond in Moore. Dr. Hall attributed his colleague, Dr. Debbie Cunningham, with working hard over the past few years encouraging people to sign up for the Veterinary Medical Reserve Corps and their county animal response teams. The oldest of those teams was called in early by the county animal control coordinator, who brought in several veterinarians.
“Early on, we also called in an incident management team from the USDA, because our state ag department staff is small and some staff are in the field. They came in and helped us organize and get control of the situation. They were a great resource,” Dr. Hall said.
The AVMA Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams were on standby, ready to assist if requested by the state, but Dr. Hall said they didn’t request VMAT assistance because it was not needed. Dr. Cheryl Eia, AVMA emergency preparedness and response coordinator, said the state and local response organizations indeed did a tremendous job.
The AVMA Group Health & Life Insurance Trust and the AVMA PLIT implemented special procedures for plan members and insureds who were affected by the Oklahoma tornadoes. Only one property claim has been reported for the PLIT-sponsored program, and the insurance company is working closely with that practice owner to settle the claim. GHLIT insureds impacted by the storm could obtain an early prescription refill at any pharmacy, even if it was outside the network.
At last check, Dr. Wiley still had a few dozen horses in his care, and the outcomes of some of them remained uncertain. “That’s the amazing thing about a tornado: you find things keep popping up on them that you didn’t notice at first,” he said.
He said some individuals have donated to help offset owners’ bills for their horses. “A lot of people don’t have anything. For some of them, this is the only thing they have left.”