Hurricane Katrina & Hurricane Rita’s Animal Rescue Updates

Hurricane Rita made landfall and fortunately lost some of her steam. Don’t dismiss the danger or complications of this hurricane however.

It is still too early for any updates but here are the latest I’ve received:

As Hurricane Rita draws near, threatening to make landfall in Texas, American Humane’s Animal Emergency Services continue our operations.Yesterday, we sent two teams into New Orleans in one more attempt to bring in more animals before Hurricane Rita made us head back to Gonzales and batten down the hatches at the Lamar-Dixon temporary shelter.

Winds this morning hit 50 miles per hour, and there were three to five inches of rain in Gonzales.We’ve heard reports that the levy is leaking in New Orleans.
We’re being hit harder than we expected!

Some of our volunteers are heading to Texas in support for Rita. While the Houston SPCA reports things are under control, we stand ready to assist in any way needed. It’s so important that American Humane, and all animal welfare organizations, stay united to help animals!

The Mayor of Galveston, Texas, advised evacuees to take their pets with them, a directive that will have a substantial impact on the well-being of the state’s companion animals when this devastating 2nd punch passes.

Since Wednesday at the Lamar-Dixon shelter, teams have been working through the night to secure the animals and the facilities in defense of the elements.

“We’re tying down dumpsters even, so the winds don’t blow the waste and create more havoc,” reports one responder.

The teams are tying things down, putting up tarps, and doing everything they can to stabilize the facilities so the animals stay safe!

Today, pet and family reunions virtually ceased because of evacuations in Louisiana. Wednesday, only 40 owners were able to get to the shelter to claim their animals, when typically about 75 arrive every day. Access to Lamar-Dixon is not restricted but there is flood warning. We want people to stay safe and know that we’re looking out for their animals while they’re in our care.

After noon Friday, volunteers and responders at the Lamar-Dixon shelter will hole up and wait for Rita to blow over.

We will weather the storm to protect the 800 dogs and cats and tens of other animals
that are making Lamar-Dixon their special home.

23 September 2005
Thursday, we were in New Orleans, doing everything we could before we knew we’d have to leave. One of the teams reported they were heading to a house in New Orleans in search of a particular cat. Finding that she wasn’t there, they began to leave, when suddenly five more cats wandered out of hiding spaces, seeing if they could have the food and water we brought. And, of course, they could.

Kerri’s team responded to a call to the third floor of an apartment building. They went up, but found no animal. Coming down, they heard meowing, and from out of nowhere, came the cat, bolting into one of the responder’s arms. Kerri said it’s as if the cat said, “It’s about time you got here!”

At one house, we entered and heard the sound of a bird whistling of all things: Beethoven’s 5th! We immediately started whistling back, trying to comfort her and letting her know help was here. We got to the talented bird, and also found a cat on site. We brought them both back to the shelter to safety and are pleased that both are doing fine.

At our sleeping headquarters in one of the many RVs at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center, a beagle and two cats have joined us. The beagle is the sweetest thing, and after the long days in the field, they make even our temporary crowded camper feel like home.

(Rebecca Simmons)
Less than a month after Hurricane Katrina devastated a large swath of the Gulf Coast, the storm’s wicked stepsister, Hurricane Rita, was poised late Friday to hit Texas and Louisiana with nearly the same ferocity. The Lamar-Dixon emergency shelter in Gonzales, Louisiana, currently home to about 1,000 animals displaced by Katrina, was expected to feel Rita’s wrath—even if the facility was well away from the eye of the storm.

Not that anyone at the shelter was taking chances on Friday. Nonessential volunteers were evacuated, animals were secured in their converted horse stalls, and the remaining staff on the ground were holed up wherever they could find shelter.
Despite wind gusts predicted to reach 50 mph on Saturday, Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS, said on Friday that the three large, open-air barns on the Lamar-Dixon grounds, where animals are being housed in stalls, can withstand high winds. “We are very confident in those structures,” he said.

To further fortify the barns, commanders at Lamar-Dixon positioned tractor trailers around the sides of the structures to form a protective barrier from the wind and rain. Commanders also stored supplies—including food, crates, equipment, and carriers—in the trailers to keep them dry and damage-free.

Katey Briggson, a volunteer from Grass Valley, California wasn’t worried about the safety of the animals. “I think that we are very well-prepared for this storm. The whole operation is very organized,” she said.

The Volunteer State
Once preparations for the hurricane were completed, the number of volunteers on-site was scaled back from approximately 180 to 40-50 emergency personnel to care for the animals.

“We have asked all nonessential volunteers to evacuate the premises until Sunday
morning, when the storm is expected to pass,” said Pacelle. “We don’t want to put any more people at risk than absolutely necessary.”

As a precaution, the volunteer housing tent—a giant air-conditioned facility provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to sleep about 300 people—was dismantled on Friday morning, lest Rita rip it to shreds. By the early afternoon, FEMA had arranged an alternate shelter in Baton Rouge with 100 beds, where
volunteers could stay through Sunday morning. Cots in the barns were made available for emergency volunteers who planned to stay on site at the Lamar-Dixon shelter.

If volunteers and staff didn’t have enough to worry about on Friday, they also had to deal with two tornado warnings in the Gonzales area. Workers were forced to find shelter in bathrooms and wait out the threat of twisters. No one was injured.

Unfinished Business
The weather certainly slowed down the primary work of the Lamar-Dixon facility: rescuing and sheltering animals. That work could prove even more vital after Rita passes. On Friday, Rita’s rains opened up breeches in previous damaged levees in New Orleans, pouring water into the predominantly poor Ninth Ward, which had already sustained heavy flooding. The rising water levels have the potential to make rescuing animals, who have been waiting for help for nearly a month, even more difficult.

Despite Rita bearing down on them, workers at Lamar-Dixon continued to move animals, with the idea of opening up more space for rescued dogs and cats. On Thursday, approximately 150 dogs were transported to the Dixon Correctional Facility in Jackson, Louisiana, where the animals will stay until they are reunited with their owners. “The inmates and wardens are very enthusiastic,” said Pacelle.
More animals will be exported once the storm clears on Sunday or Monday, allowing additional animals to be brought into Lamar-Dixon.

Fifty to 60 rescue teams also set out for New Orleans on Thursday. Because Lamar-Dixon was running at capacity, the teams spent most of the day feeding and watering animals who appeared relatively healthy and/or comfortable in their current locations. The teams did rescue animals who were in critical condition, and brought them to Gonzales.

The Eyes on Texas
West of the Lamar-Dixon facility, residents in Texas were bracing for a direct hit from Hurricane Rita, but one thing was different compared to the folks in Katrina’s path: This time around, animals were a part of the evacuation orders. In Texas, evacuees were urged to take their pets with them.

Katey Briggson, for one, noticed the difference. The Californian drove through Texas on her way to Louisiana, and noticed many animals being evacuated from south Texas. “It was great to see cars with pets leaving with their owners,” she said.
In addition, many shelters in Texas were heeding Katrina’s warning. “Texas has a stronger infrastructure in terms of shelters. Many shelters in south Texas have already evacuated, including those in Houston and Galveston,” Pacelle said.

“It really seems that officials in Texas understand the importance of evacuating people and their animals together,” Pacelle added.

Hurricane Rita made landfall along the Texas-Louisiana state line early Saturday morning with winds of 120 mph. It dropped to a Category 1 hurricane shortly after making landfall. Damage and power outages were reported from Galveston, Texas, to Lake Charles, Louisiana. Rita continues to move northward through Texas and Louisiana, bringing heavy rain and wind and isolated tornadoes. Inland flooding will remain a major threat over eastern Texas, western Louisiana and southern Arkansas for several days.

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