There were really two disasters at work on the Gulf Coast. The first disaster was Katrina herself. The storm, fed by the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, barreled into the Southeast with its 140-mile-per-hour winds, 25-foot storm surges, and pelting rains. The second disaster concentrated its impact on one of America’s great cities – New Orleans. When the city’s famed levees strained and eventually buckled and broke under the pressure of the surging water, an unyielding flood enveloped the city, rendering the city uninhabitable and prompting a mass evacuation of all who did not flee the approach of Katrina.
“Katrina has devastated the Gulf Coast, taking human lives, destroying property, and crippling transport, water, and communications systems,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS. “The story not as well known to the public is the devastation suffered by the animals in the stricken areas. We know that pets – owned and strays – have been victimized. But there are also countless horses, wild animals, and farm animals who have been killed or are now facing threats to their lives.”
The HSUS Disaster Animal Response Teams (DARTs) deployed immediately to the crisis, landing in Mississippi the day after Katrina did her damage. Now, teams are also ready to assist in Louisiana. But they face the awesome task of overcoming the fact that people are still in need of rescue and relief, that communications and transportation systems are in severe disrepair, and that the physical area affected is of enormous scope. “Katrina did not hit with surgical precision,” added Pacelle. “She laid waste to a huge swath of the Southeast, and it won’t be easy to pick up the pieces.”
Our teams are equipped to respond to the needs of all animals – including pets, horses, farm animals, and wildlife – affected by Katrina and the floodwaters. Here are dispatches from our teams:
The HSUS DART team is working with the Mississippi State Veterinarian’s Office and gathering resources in Jackson. A pet-friendly shelter and emergency animal shelter have been set up at the Coliseum in Jackson, and have taken in dozens of companion animals, with many more rescues to follow. The Veterinarian’s Office and animal rescue teams plan to provide shelter for many more animals from the surrounding areas. Our teams are moving southward and working to reach the most troubled areas of Gulfport and Biloxi.
As New Orleans Superdome evacuees arrive in Houston, many of them will be sheltered in the Astrodome. The Houston Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals is arranging accommodations for the pets of people who are staying in Houston-area shelters and preparing for the influx of more animals. HSUS volunteers are helping transport animals from evacuees arriving at the Astrodome and ferrying them to the temporary shelter, which will be fully operational by Friday.
The HSUS Southwest Regional Office has been in contact with the state veterinarian and is working closely with the Louisiana SPCA on the ground in Louisiana. Pets are now being accepted at several stations, with plans in place for others as the need arises.
Allan Schwartz of the Days End Farm Horse Rescue is working with HSUS’s Eastern response teams. In areas around Jackson, Mississippi, HSUS’s horse-response team has been making assessments with local veterinarians and feed stores. The unit is equipped with basic supplies, including halters and water, as well as slings and other equipment needed to rescue horses.
There have been reports of horses stranded in the New Orleans floodwaters and many pets left behind during evacuations, some of whom may have drowned in storm surge waters. The HSUS is investigating those reports to develop a rescue response once access improves. “We heard an account from one person who lost 13 horses, and we know that’s just one small indicator of the scope of the problem,” said Pacelle.
Captive Wildlife and Zoos
When a natural disaster approaches, zoos, aquariums, and animal parks are in particular jeopardy because large exotic animals cannot be safely moved. Even if you could move them, there’s no place for them to go. So these institutions have to hunker down and see if they can survive the blows of the storm.
Preliminary accounts suggest that several zoo facilities in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama have weathered the brunt of the storm without significant loss of animals and facilities. The American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) has posted interim reports on its member facilities on its website and is in the process of developing a response effort for assistance. The U.S Department of Agriculture, responsible for the licensing and inspection of zoos and aquariums, is attempting to contact licensees to assess their situations. The large number of “roadside” zoos — which are not accredited and often have no disaster preparedness plans, in addition to having slipshod enclosures and few personnel — are particularly vulnerable.
Six dolphins from a Gulfport aquarium, Marine Life Oceanarium, were first evacuated to hotel swimming pools and then later moved to facilities in Florida. Nine sea lions were evacuated to Florida on Wednesday. The HSUS is investigating the deaths of at least two sea lions from the same facility who were featured on CNN and other news channels on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The toll of this tragedy on wild animals is expected to be significant, as untold numbers are killed, injured, or displaced by the impacts of Katrina. In Slidell, Louisiana, police Captain Rob Callahan reported to CNN that approximately 100,000 fish lay aground in his neighborhood, nearly four miles inland from the lake shore. The HSUS is monitoring the situation to assess and respond to native wildlife impacted by the disaster.
Dangerous wildlife, such as poisonous snakes and alligators, are likely to be at large in areas where they could pose safety concerns for people and their pets, and should be given a wide berth as they try themselves to get out of harm’s way.
Other wild animals may be found stranded, isolated, or trapped by debris. Each will have to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis considering the resources available and other priorities. These animals should be left alone and their locations reported to wildlife professionals or other local authorities whenever possible, since any wild animal approached by a human is likely to act in a defensive manner and may be dangerous.
In a single year, more than 3 billion chickens, pigs, cattle, egg-laying hens, and other farm animals are raised in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Florida, and Louisiana—the five states suffering the brunt of Katrina’s wrath. With widespread power outages, flooding, high-speed winds, and sweltering temperatures, animals in meat, egg, and dairy industries are adding to the mounting death toll.
Carroll County was hit hardest in Georgia, as a tornado spawned from Katrina devastated the community. Preliminary assessments in that county alone range from 374,500 to more than 500,000 broiler chickens. High winds flattened eight warehouse-like broiler sheds at a single factory farm, crushing the 240,000 chickens kept inside. At another facility, the tornado’s winds ripped away five chicken sheds, killing an estimated 75,000 birds.
Factory farming structures could not withstand the hurricane-force winds and tornadoes. Roofs blew off, and the structures simply crumpled to the ground in heap of metal. Already in Mississippi, one million pounds of processed chickens—and one million pounds of chicken manure—have turned the Mississippi Sound into what The Washington Post has called “a huge vat of biohazards.” Mississippi-based Sanderson Farms, the nation’s fifth-largest broiler chicken company, was directly in the storm’s path. As of this update, Sanderson was unreachable via phone or Internet, but industry representatives are speculating that the company’s operations “have been severely disrupted.”
Thousands of cattle in southern Louisiana are stranded in floods of salt water, and food is fast depleting. Officials are scrambling to organize transport of the cattle out of the area—and even the state—while working to deal with the many decomposing corpses of those who did not survive Katrina.
Widespread power outages throughout Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia wreak havoc in industrialized farming, as most animal factories are highly mechanized with automated waters, feeders, ventilation systems, and, in the case of egg-laying hens, egg collection belts. Without power, the sheds housing thousands if not hundreds of thousands of animals will simply shut down, leaving the animals inside to suffer severe temperatures without food or water.
“We are dealing with a calamity of monumental proportions,” said Pacelle. “We will do all we can to reach and save every animal we can locate and rescue. And most importantly, we are here for the long haul – whether it’s weeks, months, or even years.”