Texas state authorities and veterinary professionals provided emergency animal care in counties where Hurricane Ike wiped out utilities and homes and killed livestock after making landfall Sept. 13.
Elbert Hutchins, executive director of the Texas VMA, said the state association worked with veterinarians in the 10 or 12 counties with the most devastation to start emergency operations.
"Now, we're just kind of waiting to get a full assessment what the problems are, and what kind of long-term coordinated relief effort we need to mount," Hutchins said.
Most veterinary clinics are still standing since Hurricane Ike passed through, Hutchins said. Some were damaged and business may not immediately rebound, but the situation is improving daily.
"In general, the veterinary infrastructure is pretty resilient." Hutchins said.
The center of Ike reached land at Galveston at 2:10 a.m. Sept. 13, according to information from the National Weather Service. By 4 a.m., the hurricane's eye moved inland across the Galveston-Houston area, and the storm reached 110 mph maximum sustained winds. The winds decreased to 90 mph by 8 a.m.
Tide gauges along the coast recorded storm surges between 9 and 12 feet above normal tide levels. Counties along Galveston Bay and the ship channel were largely without power in the days following the storm, and authorities maintained roadblocks and curfews.
"Some people are saying that it's as bad (as) or worse than a huge hurricane that came through here in 1961 named Carla," Hutchins said. "And that was a hugely devastating storm."
Local, state, and federal relief efforts
The storm's effect on wildlife, livestock, and companion animals wasn't clear at press time in mid-September, and rescue operations of humans needed to finish before authorities evaluated the impact on animals, Hutchins said.
More than a million people evacuated, but emergency work was still needed to help people who stayed despite the mandatory evacuation order. It was unclear how many animals were evacuated with their owners, Hutchins said.
Elizabeth Serca, executive director of the Texas State Animal Resource Team, said in a message that members of the Texas Animal Health Commission were collecting information on small animal and large animal shelter locations in the days since Ike passed through the state, but there is no statewide reporting system for shelters. Shelters in Austin were consolidating operations the day after the hurricane's landfall while shelters in other areas continued receiving people and pets.
Residents of Galveston Island who chose to ride out the storm wait for transportation to a shelter in
San Antonio. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has worked with the Texas authorities and
the military to provide commodities to residents affected by Hurricane Ike.
Preliminary information from the commission, which is Texas' livestock and poultry regulatory agency, indicates shelters provided space for more than 550 livestock and about 1,200 small animals. Those figures do not include pets held in temporary housing or given refuge by individuals.
A shortage of fuel, particularly diesel, was problematic even for state agencies, Serca said. She spent about a quarter of her time the day after the hurricane hit dealing with and removing volunteers without credentials, who she said pose a safety and accountability hazard.
Almost a week after Hurricane Ike hit Galveston, Hutchins said operations were moving from assessment and search-and-rescue to the providing of services and infrastructure repair.
Galveston Island remained closed to all but emergency workers as of Sept. 19, Hutchins said. Power was restored in pieces, and many rural residents and veterinary clinics had no electricity.
Dogs displaced by Hurricane Ike are sheltered at the local center set up by the Galveston Island Humane
"I think the big issue here is lack of power, and that of course means no water, and the gasoline stations can't pump gasoline," Hutchins said.
Commodities including animal-use pharmaceuticals were unavailable in some areas because of spotty distribution lines, Hutchins said. Drug company representatives delivered some supplies by hand.
Representatives from the USDA and the Texas Animal Health Commission assessed large animal issues from above and on the ground, and the commission reported "large numbers" of cattle and horses were killed or roamed freely when fences fell during the storm. A press release from Texas A&M University indicates about 20,000 livestock ran for high ground when 20-foot storm surges destroyed most fences in Chambers and Jefferson counties.
Veterinarian volunteers gathered and treated injured and stray animals and helped dispose of apparently hundreds of animal carcasses, including a huge number of cattle that drowned or otherwise died, Hutchins said. The Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service coordinated livestock carcass disposal and offered to help offset disposal and burial costs.
Pets America and the City of Austin helped people and pets move from emergency shelters to longer-term housing starting several days after Ike passed. Members of groups such as the American Humane Association, International Fund for Animal Welfare, and American Society for the Protection of Animals helped local authorities capture animals and operate shelters, Serca said.
In the days following the hurricane, agriculture and livestock industry groups collected feed, hay, and water troughs through Operation No Fences: Hurricane Ike Horse and Cattle Relief, according to the commission.
Hundreds of Texas AgriLife Extension Service members from the Texas A&M System deployed for tasks such as feed, hay, and water distribution; emergency damage assessments; animal care and shelter; assistance with carcass disposal; public communications; and support of the Governor's Division of Emergency Management.
Dr. Larry Kornegay, AVMA District VIII director representing Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas on the AVMA Executive Board, wasn't aware of any major devastation at Houston-area veterinary clinics, and the emergency clinic he co-owns used a diesel-powered generator to reopen within two days. A few people came to the North Harris County Veterinary Emergency Referral Clinic after running over their own pets, and others' pets suffered illnesses, lacerations, and fight-related injuries when fences fell and the animals escaped.
"We were very fortunate," Dr. Kornegay said. "I know of no patients of our personal clinic that died from the direct effects of the storm."
Mississippi's state veterinarian, Dr. Jim Watson, said Ike did not have a severe impact on his state, but a small number of people and pets were evacuated from the coast. One pet-friendly shelter in Harrison County was largely used by coastal Mississippi residents, while other pet-friendly shelters mostly were used by people from Louisiana.
A large number of rodent deaths that likely occurred in Louisiana forced cleanup in Mississippi, Dr. Watson said. Thousands of nutria bodies washed ashore along a five-mile stretch of beach near the border between the states.
Information from the Louisiana State Animal Response Team says limited response was needed from the team following Hurricane Ike, and parishes remained in control of animal-related issues. Flooding in coastal parishes was more severe than after Hurricane Rita, but there was no need for outside volunteers immediately following the storm.
Hutchins said Texas had a much more efficient, rapid response than for previous storms. First responders, state coordinators, and county emergency response teams met, identified needs, and allocated resources daily.
"There was a much better prestorm evacuation process," Hutchins said. "The highways were crowded, but they didn't come to gridlock like they did before."
Hutchins expressed gratitude to people from in and outside Texas for "their care and concern toward veterinarians and our situation in Texas and Louisiana."
"And we're very grateful for every expression of support we've received," he said.
People who want to donate money or supplies for relief efforts can contact April Klinger with the Texas Veterinary Medical Foundation at (512) 452-4224 or at aklingertvma [dot] org.
The American Association of Equine Practitioners Foundation has been accepting money through its Equine Disaster Relief Fund to help horses in Louisiana and Texas.