When Hurricane Florence made landfall in southeastern North Carolina on Sept. 14, it was as a weakened Category 1 hurricane, not the Category 4 monster brewing over the Atlantic Ocean days before.
The relief was short-lived.
Florence dumped buckets of rain for several days across the region—a record 35 inches in one area—causing rivers to surge over their banks, across roads, and into farms and neighborhoods. State officials attribute 39 deaths to the storm, which displaced over 5,200 people.
Just over a thousand animals were evacuated or rescued from the floodwaters. Four million poultry and roughly 5,500 hogs did not escape the deluge, however. Livestock losses were projected at $23.1 million, a fraction of the total $1.1 billion hit to North Carolina's agriculture industry.
"These early estimates show just what a devastating and staggering blow this hurricane leveled at our agriculture industry," said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. Later, Troxler requested $300 million from state lawmakers for cleanup and recovery efforts, with most of the funds going directly to farmers who lost crops and livestock.
Total estimated property damage left in Florence's wake is roughly $38 billion, according to the National Hurricane Center, making it the sixth-costliest hurricane in U.S. history.
Claire Holley, executive director of the North Carolina VMA, said the association was assessing damage to member practices as of early October. There were no reports of any having been destroyed, but many were damaged, she said.
"Folks are still trying to catch their breath and get back to some sense of order and normalcy, so letting us know their status is a secondary priority," Holley explained. "Several practices have suffered damage from flooding and debris and are awaiting repair. In the meantime, they are still seeing patients as best they can."
It was much the same with the Center for Marine Sciences and Technology, a research facility operated by North Carolina State University in Morehead City. An NCSU College of Veterinary Medicine spokesperson said the building had sustained "quite a bit of damage" but the extent was not yet known.
Faculty, staff, and students from the veterinary college helped rescue, shelter, and care for pets and livestock impacted by Florence. The AVMA supported these efforts with a $100,000 donation to the veterinary college through the American Veterinary Medical Foundation.
The week of the storm, Dr. Paul Lunn, dean of the veterinary college, loaded a van with donated supplies and delivered them to referring veterinarians in communities near the city of Wilmington, close to where Florence made landfall.
Dr. Kelli Ferris, a clinical assistant professor and general practice director with the veterinary college, oversaw more than 600 volunteers at a temporary staging area at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds, where 84 dogs and cats rescued from flooded animal shelters were housed. She and the CVM also organized the distribution of nearly 50 tons of hay and haylage to counties where flooding prevented livestock from grazing.
Fourth-year veterinary student Sarah Montoya was part of the team that took in donated supplies, cleaned, walked and fed animals, and assisted with physical examinations, laboratory work, and microchipping. "Each and every person, all of the 644 volunteers at our pop-up shelter, had something to offer," Montoya said. "Among them were experienced veterinarians and rescuers working side by side with people who had never walked a dog."
Many of the volunteers also assisted at a Red Cross co-located human and animal shelter in Chapel Hill, with the animals supervised by Dr. Brenda Stevens, a general practice clinical associate professor at the CVM who is also the North Carolina VMA president. For 13 days, the shelter took in animals, 191 in all, including dogs, cats, birds, fish, and guinea pigs.
Fourth-year veterinary student Alexandru Pop joined animal rescue groups, often by boat, to reach stranded animals, including horses and alpacas. Pop volunteered for two weeks, treating animals for severe dehydration, skin lacerations and infections, pneumonia, and hypoglycemia. "It really showed me how dynamic and creative the veterinary profession can be outside of day-to-day practice responsibilities," Pop said.
The veterinary college opened temporary shelter space for horses at the Equine Health Center. The NC State Veterinary Hospital remained open for the duration of the storm and its aftermath, caring for many pets with a range of health issues stemming from the storm's impact.
One of the more notable Florence-related stories was the arrest of Tammie Hedges for allegedly violating the state Veterinary Practice Act. Hedges had housed 27 cats and dogs left by owners fleeing the storm at an unlicensed shelter in Rosewood near the Carolina coast. She was charged with a dozen misdemeanors for treating the animals with medications such as amoxicillin. Hedges was also charged with solicitation of a schedule IV substance for asking for a donation of tramadol.
Less than a week later, District Attorney Matthew Delbridge dismissed all the charges, posting a statement on Facebook that read in part, "Dismissal of these criminal charges will minimize further distraction from my core mission of protecting the public from violent crime and allow the North Carolina Veterinary Medical Board to take whatever action they may deem appropriate."