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Three States, Eight Days, One Thousand Animals: Reflections on Hurricane Matthew, Part 2

After 3 days of search and rescue efforts in Georgia and South Carolina following Matthew’s wake last month, the ASPCA Field Investigations and Response Team faced historical flooding in North Carolina. Dr. Dick Green, Senior Director, Disaster Response, shares his report from the field.

 

It had been 17 years since I had deployed to North Carolina, following Hurricane Floyd—quite possibly the most destructive hurricane in U.S. history in terms of agricultural loss. Floyd’s track was very similar to Matthew’s in that it came through on its march northward and dumped a ton of rain—and all of that rain ended up in North Carolina. Much of the state had already experienced significant flooding just weeks before, so the land was extremely saturated. Historic flooding was on the way.

Our first request came when the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services asked us to assist in the emergency shelter in Lumberton and to support the county in animal search and rescue efforts. We had just spent about 9 months there the year before for a large seizure case. We had cared for 40 horses at the county fairgrounds, which were now completely underwater. Our advance team arrived at the fairgrounds at about midnight, met with animal control, off-loaded our vehicles and grabbed some much-needed sleep in the trailers. Actually, Adam Leath (our Regional Director, Southeast Region) and I slept in the trailer, Tim Rickey, our Vice President, slept in the front seat of the truck, and Lacie Davis, Disaster Response Manager, slept in the back seat of the Freightliner. We were in serious search of coffee the following morning! Our sheltering team arrived at noon, while we had our boat in the water by 10, and pulled our first animal before 11.

Everywhere we went, people asked us to rescue their animals. Our first stop was on Kite Street, where we had a request to rescue a dog. We were able to get our truck and boat through some shallow water to a bridge and a high spot where there were some abandoned vehicles, and a number of residents had gathered there. As we were putting our boat into the water, I saw a man looking across the flooded fields to what turned out to be his house. It was obvious that he wanted to get to his house and get his dog. I agreed to pick up his Chihuahua, which lead to a half-dozen other requests. For the next couple of hours, that little piece of high land became the site for a number of happy reunions. 

One resident asked us if we would check in on his three dogs, whom he had left on his back deck. He was fairly confident that they were okay, given the height of the deck and because he had left ample food and water. He was much more concerned about a stray he had taken in just before the storm, a white German shepherd who was not doing well. He had left the stray in the bed of his truck so that he would not fight with the other dogs. We had a bear of a time finding his house and truck, but as we were motoring around near the levee, we saw a pair of white pointy ears pop up from a red truck! The dog did not appear to be overly excited to see us, but with some coercion and the right equipment, we had him in a crate and racing back to the shelter.

 

 

While we were responding to a request in town, a film crew stopped us and asked if we had any calls near Chicken Street. This same film crew happened to be in that area shortly after the flooding started and had heard about a woman named Joni Gaddy, whose son had driven from Texas to save her. It was a heart-wrenching and wonderful story, but that wasn’t the end of it. They were not able to take her golden retriever, and the film crew asked if we would try to get to her house. This may go down as one of the toughest navigation efforts we have undertaken in a 14-foot johnboat, as trees were down and power lines were down. We were motoring over cars, fences and road signs, and finally reached Joni’s house. She was very concerned that her dog might be aggressive and try to bite. We were able to get into one of the side windows that had been left open and crawled in to find the dog curled up on the bed. Joel Lopez, Director of Planning & Field Operations, and Bruce Earnest, Responder Safety Manager, won her over in minutes, and we soon had her in a crate in the boat to start the exciting journey back. The film crew was able to reach Joni on the phone, and screams erupted on the other end when they told her we had her dog. The entire family is now together again.

 

 

The flooding throughout the state is now historic. Water levels have exceeded those following Floyd and, as I write this, it will be weeks before the water recedes—and months or even years before the state recovers completely. We will have our sheltering and animal search and rescue teams there for as long as needed, and our hearts go out to all of those living in the areas hit by Matthew. 

Three states and nearly a thousand animals over the course of eight days, and it’s times like these that I realize how fortunate I am to work for an organization truly committed to the welfare of animals, alongside an incredibly talented team, doing some amazing lifesaving work.

 

Dr. Dick Green is responsible for leading the efforts of the ASPCA Disaster Response department, which covers natural disasters. He oversees the ASPCA's internal disaster readiness program and develops partnerships with national and local agencies to enhance the organization’s disaster response capabilities. He established and chaired the National Animal Rescue and Sheltering Coalition in early 2006, following Hurricane Katrina. NARSC is comprised of 13 animal welfare groups, including the ASPCA, and is the first coalition in the nation that is dedicated to working with all levels of government and non-government agencies on major human-animal emergency issues.

 

Related Links

Webinar with Dr. Dick Green: “Animals In Disasters: Enhancing Response Capabilities” 
Blog: Three States, Eight Days, One Thousand Animals: Reflections on Hurricane Matthew, Part 1
Download: 10-page Emergency Housing Guide