Hurricane Andrew: Noah was there! Disaster spotlights preparation

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 1992:

MIAMI, FLORIDA Thousands of
animals drowned, were swept to their deaths
by winds reaching 200 miles an hour, or were
crushed by falling trees and collapsing build-
ings. Fragile habitat was harmed from southern
Florida to coastal Louisiana. But while
Hurricane Andrew hit too suddenly for anyone
to build an ark, thousands more animals were
saved from the August 24 disaster through the
prompt efforts of volunteer rescuers. As the
human relief response came under critical
scrutiny from victims and the media, observers
had only praise for the contributions of animal
control and humane workers.

For one thing, the animal rescuers
were better prepared than many who participat-
ed in human relief. Humanely capturing terri-
fied animals was nothing new, nor were long
shifts on a limited budget. The animal rescuers
also found that even limited advance planning
went a long way in the pinch.
“Most communities don’t fit animals
into their disaster plans,” explained Karen
Medicus, director of the Treasure Coast
Humane Society and president elect of the
Florida Animal Control Association. “But we
did actually have some framework among our-
selves that gave us some basis for cooperation.”
Just outside the hurricane area, Treasure Coast
Humane was put in charge of coordinating
activites, according to Medicus, “because we
had the clearest phones. While Medicus herself
rushed to help staff at the Humane Society of
Greater Miami and Metro Dade Animal
Services, her assistant Beth Whipkey fielded
calls and relayed messages.
“We’re just absolutely bonkers down
here,” Whipkey admitted to ANIMAL PEO-
PLE two weeks after Andrew hit, but she was
managing to respond to most inquiries within a
matter of hours–even though locating missing
animals often required checking with numerous
foster care providers in a variety of locations.
The biggest single problem among
many for animal rescuers was, as always, pet
identification. Distinguishing lost and fright-
ened pet cats from Miami’s huge feral popula-
tion was difficult, too, as stress caused once-
docile house pets to act like ferals when
approached by strangers. Twenty-seven pets
were reunited with their guardians in the first
week post-disaster, but many more could have
been, Medicus said, if they had been wearing
Among the rescuers’ first priorities
was restoring veterinary services to the storm-
battered area. While animal control officers
from other parts of Florida donated their time
to round up homeless animals, working in
teams of four on three-day shifts, veterinari-
ans set up mobile units to examine and treat
the animals as they arrived. The American
Animal Hospital Association and American
Humane Association donated the necessary
medical supplies. At least one veterinary
mobile unit was mounted on a boat.
By mid-September, the vets were
back in their regular clinics, and foster care
took priority. The U.S. Army helped set up a
tent city where human guardians could search
for missing animals, and those without homes
could leave animals temporarily while they
pulled their lives back together. The lack of
facilites for pets of displaced people was cited
often by critics of the Red Cross response;
Red Cross tent cities barred all pets.
Eventually the U.S. Army provided shelter to
some pet owners. Others were obliged to sur-
render their animals to the humane organiza-
tions–who were soon swamped. As of
September 7, two weeks after the storm,
Dade County Animal Services was receiving
75 to 100 animals a day, mostly dogs, and
was holding 350 at a time, nearly double the
normal capacity. As many as 40 animals a day
were being reclaimed, according to director
Zoraida Diaz-Albertini, but more foster care
was urgently needed, as temporary homes
were available for only 15 to 20 animals per
Even so, unidentified animals who
appeared to be pets got an extension of the
usual five-day holding period prior to euthana-
sia, as humane societies outside the disaster
area took in as many as they could, leaving
descriptions at the tent city.
“We’ve got quite a few groups work-
ing together,” Medicus shouted over the tele-
phone to ANIMAL PEOPLE amid the din of
ongoing activity. “Every major pet food man-
ufacturer in the country sent food for the ani-
Hurricane Andrew: more than 40 days and 40 nights of heroic rescue efforts
(continued from page one)
mals. Helping out, we have the AHA, the
Humane Society of the U.S., and the
International Fund for Animal Welfare,”
which lent the use of a helicopter.
Curt Ransom and Dennis White of
AHA “got to go up in the helicopter,” Ransom
said from the head office in Englewood,
Colorado, a few hours after returning from a
two-week assistance mission. “It kind of wipes
you out to see all the devastation. Anything
you do is not going to take care of everything
you see in a crisis like that–you just have to
take care of the animals in front of you. There
was one property in the flooded area with 48
pigs and 17 dogs that we had to get to. There
were two big boars, all on about a half-acre
site. Some ducks and chickens were okay, so
we left them there with some feed. There were
horses standing in water that used to be pas-
tures everywhere. We pretty much had to
leave thousands of horses where they were
until the water went down,” for lack of ade-
quate rescue vehicles.
Horse rescue efforts were assisted by
the Homestead and Tropical Park race tracks,
who between them took in at least 108 strays.
Louisiana hit, too
While the damage centered on south-
ern Florida, the effects of Hurrican Andrew
were felt all along the Gulf coast. A six-year-
old giraffe died of stress at the Audubon Zoo in
New Orleans. As far away as Independence,
ANIMAL PEOPLE subscriber Joan Garvey
noted that falling trees destroyed 250 feet of
chain-link fence on her property, which had to
be replaced immediately, “or my dogs would
have been scattered all over the state.” The
New Orleans-based activist group Legislation
In Support of Animals coordinated a food drive
for shelters in the stricken area with the coop-
eration of the Lousiana SPCA.
“We gathered quite a lot of food in a
short time,” reported LISA executive director
Jeff Dorson. “Unfortunately a lot of people
who fled the storm left their animals behind.
Joel Warner of the SPCA told me they found
lots of dead dogs, who were left tied up, I
guess to guard property.”
Dead animals became a health prob-
lem in some areas, and a source of rumors
about human bodies buried in the rubble in the
poorer parts of greater Miami. While humans
and pets were harder hit in Florida, however,
the greater toll on wildlife appeared to be in
the low-lying Louisiana bayous. Only days
before the Lousiana alligator trapping season
was set to open, featuring relaxed skinning
rules that wardens feared would encourage
poaching, Andrew rendered the ongoing bitter
debate within the state Department of Wildlife
and Fisheries irrelevant. Silting and habitat
destruction may have killed half the Lousiana
alligator population, Wildlife and Fisheries
secretary Joe Herring told media. Tens of
thousands of fish died when they were pushed
into the “dead zones” caused each fall by
decaying vegetation from bayou runoff. The
dead fish contaminated miles of shoreline,
while oyster beds were buried. The rotting
corpses produced algal blooms that in turn
depleted oxygen from the water, killing still
more fish. A week before Andrew hit, 25 vol-
unteers from the Louisiana Air National Guard
159th Fighter Group built six nests for bald
eagles, who have been gradually reintroduced
to the Mississippi Delta, a few at a time, since
1986. Their efforts were probably blown
away, though no one was able to get out to
check. The eagles, at least, were presumed
safe, since they migrate north each summer
and don’t return until fall.
Animals were killed at a number of
Florida zoos and aquariums, including a 16-
year-old dolphin who died of stress at Ocean
World in Fort Lauderdale. “Hundreds of mon-
keys died,” according to Shirley McGreal,
president of the International Primate
Protection League. “Both the Monkey
Jungle,” an outdoor site at Aladdin City with
about 400 monkeys in residence, “and the
Miami MetroZoo were severely impacted.”
The simian death toll was unavail-
able, but it was clear that however many were
killed, hundreds more broke out of damaged
cages, along with reptiles, amphibians, and
birds, many of them exotics who had been
held by some of the 215 animal dealers in the
greater Miami area. More than a thousand pri-
mates were believed loose as of September 3.
Approximately 100 monkeys broke out of the
Perrine Laboratory at the University of Miami,
which set up a “monkey hotline” to try to get
them back. Authorities denied that any of the
monkeys were infected with AIDS, but
warned the public against trying to corner or
capture them, to avoid bites. A recorded
message on the hotline asked people to leave
food for any monkeys they saw, if they had
food to spare.
A month after the storm, all the
University of Miami monkeys, most of the
Monkey Jungle troop, and the Miami
MetroZoo troop were accounted for. Those
who got away from dealers were another story.
In all likelihood the already considerable south
Florida feral monkey population would get an
infusion of new blood.
“Many of the monkeys who got
loose were laboratory primates housed in out-
door corn cribs,” McGreal charged. “The
Animal Welfare Act requires that facilities for
captive animals have sufficient structural
strength to contain the captives. The fact that
so many monkeys and other wild animals
escaped shows that most of the facilities were
in questionable compliance.” Further, she
said, the loss of so many monkeys “will have
a ripple effect around the world, and will pro-
vide profits for the animal dealers who supply
the facilities with replacement monkeys
removed from the wild.”
Certainly one animal dealer got a
break from Andrew. Matthew Block, charged
with arranging illegal international traffic in
highly endangered orangutans, was scheduled
to go to trial in Miami the morning of August
24. West German animal transporter Kurt
Schaefer had arrived in Miami to testify
against his former associate, along with other
foreign witnesses. The hurricane caused a
delay in proceedings until at least the end of
November. Schaefer pledged he would return
Florida wildlife
Twenty-three highly endangered
Florida panthers and a number of black bears
who had been outfitted with radio collars fled
north ahead of the storm, according to state
and federal wildlife researchers–possibly into
less suitable habitat and certainly into areas
with more automobile traffic, the leading
cause of panther deaths in recent years.
Wildlife ecologists were optimistic that
Andrew might have flushed a buildup of sedi-
ment out of Florida’s fragile offshore coral
reefs, which have been close to smothering in
some places, but the impact on the drought-
depeted Everglades would probably be a dif-
ferent story. Herons, wood storks, and
roseate spoonbills virtually vanished during the
hurricane. The high winds meanwhile devas-
tated native vegetation while depositing seeds
and spores from countless exotic plants, any
of which could take root and prevent the native
plants from reclaiming the habitat.
For all the damage it did, Andrew
was only one of a number of devastating
storms that hit the world in September. Circa
September 1, the biggest snowstorm to hit
New Zealand in 40 years killed an estimated
1.5 million sheep, including approximately
one million newborn lambs. Flooding caused
largely by deforestation in the Himalayan
foothills killed at least 2,500 people in north-
ern India and Pakistan between the 8th and
18th of September. Communications in the
area were so badly disrupted that news of the
human suffering was hard to come by, let
alone word of what had happened to animals.
Simultaneously, Hurricane Iniki displaced
nearly 8,000 residents of the Hawaiian island
of Kauai. As in Florida, pets and captive
wildlife were scattered and wildlife habitat
badly disrupted. September 23, a severe storm
killed 22 people, mostly children, near
Avignon, France.
The series of disasters lent urgency
to Ransom’s hope that the AHA will be able to
pull together a conference on disaster plans in
March or April of 1993. As valuable as the
lessons learned in Florida were to those who
participated in that rescue effort, they should
be still more valuable to humane societies who
have not yet been through a disaster and could
suddenly find themselves coping not only with
unprecedented disruption of work routines,
but also disruption of personal support and
security. Few animal protection networks are
as farsighted as the members of the Animal
Disaster Team, an association of volunteers in
the Cleveland area, who began holding regular
meetings in July to figure out “What if?”
“We hope,” mused Medicus, “that
something good like that can come of this.”
–Merritt Clifton
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