MIDWEST FLOOD RESCUE EFFORT: Forty days, forty nights, and still the rain kept pouring

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 1993:

months of record rainfall that brought
record flooding in nine midwestern states
probably displaced more animals than
any high waters in North America since
the glaciers melted. Of the 791 counties
in the nine states, 421 were declared fed-
eral disaster areas. Clean-up and repairs
are expected to cost more than $13 bil-
lion. But animal rescuers didn’t dwell on
the immensity of the big picture. They
just pitched in however they could, wher-
ever they were, with whatever they could
scrounge by way of equipment and sup-

The disaster was markedly big-
ger than Hurricane Andrew, which
brought the biggest previous animal res-
cue response on record in the U.S., but
rescue coordinators Richard Meyer of the
American Humane Association and Don
Rolla of Elsa Wild Animal Appeal U.S.A.
agreed that the Flood of ’93 was easier to
handle. First, nearly everyone knew it
was coming. In most cases there was
time––not plenty of time, but just
enough––to arrange evacuations before
the waters hit. Second, the relatively
slow pace of events permitted better plan-
ning than in the wake of Hurricane
Andrew, which roared up in three days and
was gone in five.
The flood left livestock and pets
stranded, transformed wildlife habitat, and
could have a permanent effect on the bal-
ance of species throughout the Mississippi
Illinois, Missouri, Des Moines, and
Raccoon river systems.
First priority for rescuers was sim-
ply keeping the humane infrastructure of the
region in operating condition, to absorb the
countless animals whom displaced families
had to leave behind. At least 23 animal
shelters were flooded at one time or another,
including the Muscatine Animal Shelter in
Muscatine, Iowa, and the Humane Society
of Scott Valley in Davenport, Iowa.
Relocating shelters
At the Muscatine facility, said
AHA representative Dave Garcia, “The
water was starting to get into the bottom of
the cages, and the stench from backed-up
sewage was incredible. We had to act fast
and get those animals out of there before the
shelter was completely overtaken by water
and sewage, or the levy broke.” Leasing
four loading docks and office space from
Kardux Transfer Inc., a trucking company
that had the only suitable site available on
short notice, the AHA moved the Muscatine
shelter and 35 unhappy cats on July 10, then
turned attention to the Davenport shelter,
where two walls had crumbled, forcing
shelter staff to make a temporary evacuation
to the Davenport fairgrounds. By July 12,
the AHA had leased a warehouse from
Threaded Products Inc., a machine shop,
and set up 30 six-foot-square chain-link
cages. July 13, volunteers wholly relocated
HSSV, as AHA, whose funds are still
depleted from Hurricane Andrew, covered
virtually all the emergency expenses.
Rolla of Elsa brought his first
truckload of donated relief supplies to
Davenport on July 24, took nine animals
back to Elhurst, Illinois, for sheltering and
adoption via the Napierville Humane
Society, and then returned to Davenport on
August 21. (He adopted one dog himself,
an 8-year-old Corgi whom he named Missy,
short for Mississippi.)
Terri Crisp
Meanwhile the focus shifted down-
stream to Illinois, as flooding hit the Alton
Area Animal Aid Association, the Animal
Protection Association in Granite City, and
the Madison County Humane Society in
Edwardsville. Rolla trucked supplies to
them on August 14 and 15. MCHS report-
edly relayed food donations on to the belea-
guered St. Charles Humane Society in
Missouri, which for a while was virtually
isolated by road washouts.
Terri Crisp of United Animal
Nations was the rescuer of the hour in that
area. Explained her back-home support per-
son, Vernon Weir, “We’ve been doing dis-
aster rescue work since 1987, when we first
formed as an organization. Terri was in
Valdez, Alaska, for 13 months after the
Exxon oil spill in 1989, where she was
chief coordinator of one of the three otter
rescue centers. She’s also been on the scene
after Hurricane Hugo,” which hit South
Carolina in 1990, “and Hurricane Andrew,
and some large forest fires in California.
She has a job at Santa Clara University, in
California, where she’s able to leave at any
time and every time we need her. We pay
her costs for transportation and equipment,
and pay her a small salary per day to make
up for the income she loses by not being at
her regular job.”
Crisp’s approach is to go into a dis-
aster area, put out a call for volunteers,
then train them, chiefly to do shelter sup-
port. “Local shelters usually are not pre-
pared for disasters,” Weir observed.
“Usually they’re just coping with their regu-
lar workload, and they can’t even imagine
what they’re going to be hit with. Most shel-
ters aren’t equipped to handle wildlife or
farm animals even at the best of times. Terri
is an expert, and she goes in with foster care
forms, takes photos of the animals they
find, and finds foster homes where they can
be held for at least 30 days. In some cases,
owners surrender animals because they’ve
lost their own homes, and they can’t take
them into Red Cross shelters or motels.
Terri gets foster care for them, as well.”
Crisp also assisted the Missouri
Wildlife Rescue Center in St. Louis, which
according to Weir was “swamped with res-
cue calls.”
Other sources of outside help
included the Chicago Veterinary Medical
Association, whose members helicoptered
food to stranded animals; the Animal
Disaster Team of Cleveland, Ohio, which
contributed funds to midwestern humane
societies; and Robin Douglas of the Hooved
Animal Humane Society, located near
Chicago. In a single day, according to
Rolla, Douglas brought in 17 lost and con-
fused animals, including “horses, wildlife,
cats, and a 180-pound St. Bernard.” That
was a good day’s work for one person––but
with a lot of help from friends, Missouri
farmer Charles Craver evacuated all 174 of
his prized Arabian horses a few days later,
even as several were foaling.
Rolla also noted “a shortage of
boats, since you can’t get around by car,”
but added that, “The Coast Guard has been
very cooperative, and also the Missouri
State Water Patrol.” He said even raccoons
and wild mink––who spend about 60% of
their time in the water––were sometimes
eager for a lift to dry land.
The AHA meanwhile moved on to
assist the community shelter in Hannibal,
Missouri, which by July 21 “was over-
crowded and needed canine vaccine, food
both for shelter animals and those in the
community, and additional housing.” The
AHA also arranged for the shelter in Fort
Madison, Iowa, to serve as a storage depot
for donated supplies.
Backing the rescue effort, the
American Kennel Club checked with 60
member clubs in the affected areas. “We
are happy to report most club members are
in no danger,” the AKC said in a July 23
bulletin, and went on to appeal for dona-
tions to disaster relief funds established by
the Jefferson County Kennel Club in
Aronold, Missouri; the St. Charles
Humane Society; the Quincy Humane
Society; the Greater Freeport Kennel Club,
of Freeport, Illinois; the Des Moines
Kennel Club; the Animal Rescue League in
Des Moines; and the AHA.
“The AKC also reminds all clubs
of the availability of our Guidelines for
Disaster Planning,” the bulletin concluded.
Copies were in strong demand.
Preventing abandonments
As the flood surged on, AHA ani-
mal protection division director Dennis
White worked to publicize the availability
of shelter care within areas about to be hit.
“We’re finding animals on roof tops, float-
ing along on debris, and isolated on the last
bit of dry land in their area,” he told media.
“There’s no reason why the family pet
should be abandoned during the flooding.
Many animal shelters have foster care pro-
grams established. And if you don’t want
your pet any more, at least take it to an ani-
mal shelter. Don’t leave the animal to
drown.” White also urged people who lost
pets to contact nearby shelters as soon as
possible. “Shelters are overcrowded with
refugee pets,” he pointed out, “and many
holding periods are only 72 hours long.
After that the animal may be euthanized to
make room for others.”
The St. Louis-based Humane
Society of Missouri broadcast similar
advice. “As the water pushed south, our
field department became increasingly
involved,” systems coordinator Cecily
Westerman told ANIMAL PEOPLE. “By
July 26, field services personnel had been
instrumental in 20 flood-related rescues,
involving six dogs, 34 cats, 120 chickens,
four cows, a calf, a bull, eight hogs, a
pony, and three cats in a bee-infested tree.”
Setting up animal relief centers at
strategic points near the heaviest flooding,
HSM conducted free vaccination clinics on
July 31 and August 1, to preclude the
spread of disease––a constant threat, amid
hot, humid weather, crowded conditions,
and accumulated sewage and carcasses of
drowned animals. “Animals who were
placed in foster homes or admitted to shel-
ters were vaccinated routinely,” Westerman
added. Animals who were treated for ill-
nesses and injuries attributable to the flood-
ing were treated without charge.”
Nine hundred St. Louis-area resi-
dents volunteered to foster animals, and
most were eventually needed. The St.
Gail Larsen of the Napierville Humane Society, Pam Arndt of the Humane Society of Scott
County, and Sue Episcopo and Don Rolla of the Elsa Wild Animal Appeal U.S.A., outside the
temporary shelter the American Humane Association put together for HSSC in a warehouse.
Louis crisis peaked July 31, when a
breached levee unexpectedly submerged
parts of the town of Chesterfield and simulta-
neously flooding loosened the moorings of
numerous huge propane tanks owned by
Phillips Petroleum, located in South St.
Louis. By August 2, 12,000 people had
been evacuated from a one-mile radius
around the tanks. Three hundred animals
were admitted to the HSM facilities within a
matter of hours then, and another 400 ani-
mals arrived August 5, after animal rescue
teams were finally allowed to go into the
evacuation area to retrieve pets who were left
behind in the 10 minutes many families were
given to pack and get out for what they were
told would be just an overnight stay.
“Strangely,” said Westerman,
“most of the animals appeared to be in good
condition. There were rumors that some of
the National Guard personnel who were
patrolling had received keys to some resi-
dences, and that some National Guard per-
sonnel were buying a lot of pet food at a
nearby supermarket.”
As after Hurricane Andrew, the
clean-up will be long and difficult––but
unlike after the hurricane, veterinary ser-
vices were never seriously disrupted. “We
understand that few if any veterinary prac-
tices were directly affected,” John Boyce of
the American Veterinary Medical
Association told ANIMAL PEOPLE.
By press time, August 25, the
waters had receded from most of the flood
zone, and nuisance animal problems were
far outnumbering those associated with ani-
mal rescue. Normally shy timber rat-
tlesnakes and copperheads were distributed
throughout residential areas, insect infesta-
tions were breeding in the huge accumulation
of mud, deer wandered through towns, and
the 250-mile-long Mark Twain National
Wildlife Refuge had been almost wholly sub-
merged, wiping out the nesting season for
the rare piping plover. But times were
reportedly great for fish-eating animals, as
fish by the thousand were left in shallow
ponds amid soaked cornfields.
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