Summarizing a disaster, by the numbers

Published on December 15, 2005
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Hurricanes Katrina and Rita harmed hundreds of horses, thousands of cattle and companion animals, and millions of chickens—as well as many veterinarians.

Estimates of damages, displacements, and deaths continue to change. But rough figures from veterinary medical associations, government officials, and other groups paint a picture of the disaster in retrospect.

Veterinarian victims 

Bland O'Connor, executive director of the Louisiana VMA, said Katrina initially closed almost all the clinics in hard-hit areas of the state—affecting about 120 practices and 250 veterinarians.

"For a week or two weeks, or maybe even longer, we had that many veterinarians who were out of service," he said.

As of Nov. 28, 19 clinics were still not operational. Yet, most of the 30 veterinarians with those practices were working elsewhere in the region. O'Connor said few veterinarians left Louisiana permanently.

Nancy Christiansen, administrative secretary of the Mississippi VMA, said most of the veterinarians in that state were also staying.

Dozens of Mississippi veterinarians reported damage to their clinics and homes. About 5 feet of water flooded one clinic, and another was underwater. Trees crashed into some buildings, and other buildings lost roofs.

Elbert C. Hutchins, executive director of the Texas VMA, said Rita caused major damage to two clinics in that state.

"We had a large number of doctors in Texas who had damage of one degree or another to their clinics and/or homes and automobiles," he said. "However, we were extremely fortunate that the damage was primarily limited to roof damage, downed trees, broken windows, etc."

Dr. Charles F. Franz, executive director of the Alabama VMA, said one clinic in the state suffered major hurricane damage.  

Lost and found

Despite the destruction, veterinarians and other volunteers rescued, treated, and sheltered thousands of pets and hundreds of horses that fell victim to the storms. 

At least 5,000 animals went through Lamar-Dixon Equine Exposition Center in Gonzales, La., and roughly 2,000 animals went through a shelter in Hattiesburg, Miss., according to state officials and the Humane Society of the United States.

The AVMA Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams treated animals at these and other locations. Members of VMAT-1 and VMAT-5 worked out of the exposition center. In Mississippi, VMAT-2 tended to 1,600 animals from Sept. 2-17. Also in Mississippi, VMAT-3 handled about 2,800 animals from Aug. 31-Sept. 29. and partner organizations listed more than 17,000 found animals in October through the online Animal Emergency Response Network. The Web site also fielded 22,000 rescue requests in October.

Many evacuees dropped their pets at shelters temporarily. After Katrina, Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine alone was caring for more than a thousand animal evacuees at peak population.

Dr. Brigid Elchos, Mississippi's state public health veterinarian, said no one can accurately estimate the total number of companion animals lost to death or displacement. Mississippi doesn't require licensing, for example, and shelters there treated a sizable population of stray animals along with other hurricane victims.

"There's no beginning number," she said. "If it's a production animal, you have an idea of how many are on a farm."  

Agriculture assessment  

According to Sept. 19 estimates from the Department of Agriculture, winds and flooding from Katrina killed 10,000 cattle worth $8 million in Louisiana. Mississippi lost 6 million chickens worth about $14 million, and Alabama lost 200,000 chickens worth about $500,000. In Louisiana and Mississippi, producers lost $3 million in dumped milk. In Louisiana, fish and shellfish losses totaled $151 million.

According to Oct. 18 estimates from the USDA, flooding after Rita caused the loss of 4,000 cattle worth about $3 million in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. Lack of electricity and scattered structural damage affected poultry producers. Producer losses on milk sales might have amounted to $400,000 per week. In Louisiana, fish and shellfish losses totaled $80 million.

Dave Tomkins, emergency management coordinator with the Texas Animal Health Commission, said Texas later lost poultry because of the lack of power. He said the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service disposed of 240,000 dead birds.

Bob Odom, commissioner of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture & Forestry, estimated that Louisiana lost two-thirds of the cattle in the hardest-hit areas by the end of hurricane season. As for fish and shellfish, he said, crawfish losses alone reached about $50 million.