Dogs & cats off the job–rats storm flooded Manila
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2009:
MANILA–Rats may leave a sinking ship, but not a flooded city.
Humans, the pets they could carry, work animals, and many
street dogs fled Manila, Rizal, and their suburbs by the thousands
after tropical storm Ketsana dumped a typical month’s worth of rain
in only nine hours on September 26, 2009.
Cats and dogs who were not evacuated and found no escape
routes climbed to high places, if they could, above the torrents,
but water spilling over 80% of the Manila metropolitan area kept most
of them wherever they ended up for at least the next four days, when
the flood began receding. Some were stranded for weeks. Much of the
metropolis was left to the rats and mice–and the Philippines are
known for rat and mouse biodiversity, with 62 native mouse and rat
species. Many are found in the greater Manila area, along with
non-native but ubiquitous Norway rats and at least three problematic
species who were accidentally imported from mainland Asia.
Norway rats, the Asian rats, and some of the native rats
are strong swimmers and fast breeders, bold about invading human
habitat, and quick to exploit food sources. And almost anything can
be food to a rat, from abandoned groceries to moldy grain, garbage,
and the drowned carcasses of other animals.
Rat population explosions often follow floods. So does
leptospirosis, a flu-like illness which may be carried by bacteria
in the urine of any infected mammal, but is most often spread by
rats and mice.
Where rat urine contaminates sun-warmed flood water, the
water becomes a medium for transmitting leptospirosis–unless it is
salt water, which kills the bacterium. New Orleans experienced a
rat population explosion after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, but not
leptospirosis, because Katrina flooded New Orleans with sea water.
Ketsana inundated Manila with fresh water. Officials frantically
tried to prevent leptospirosis by hosing salt water into the
stagnating pools covering much of the city, but to little apparent
Humans can contract leptospirosis by drinking contaminated
water, eating contaminated food, or merely wading through
contaminated water with open cuts and abrasions, as flood victims
often do, trying to escape, help others, or salvage possessions.
Ketsana, called Ondoy in the Philippines, proved to be just
the start of the crisis. Typhoon Parma, called Pepeng in the
Philippines, hit two weeks later. Typhoon Miranae hit on October
31, two weeks after Parma.
“Nearly 860 people were killed in flooding and landslides,”
Time magazine reported. “Four weeks later, sections of Manila and
some surrounding provinces are still underwater. The rainfall was
exceptional,” assessed Time, “but the severity of the flooding was
intensified by the city’s garbage-clogged drainage system, partly
from the shanties of informal settlers living along waterways and
decades of skewed urban planning.”
Orders were issued for local governments to make refuse
removal a post-flood priority, but rats were already out of control.
The Philippines had 769 reported cases of leptospirosis in
2008 and had just 177 cases in 2009 before the post-Ketsana
outbreaks were first tallied on October 12, but by October 15 had
more than 1,000. Philippine Department of Health program manager for
emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases Lyndon Lee Suy
attributed 2,158 human leptospirosis cases to the flooding on October
26, including 167 fatalities. “We project that the number of
leptospirosis cases will continue to rise,” Lee Suy said, “but not
as high as before, where we report a rise of 400 cases per day.”
Philippine health secretary Francisco Duque III told the
Philippine Star that as many as 1.7 million residents of areas still
underwater were still at risk. “We expect 3,800 people to get the
infection,” Duque said. “Of this number, 3,040 will suffer
uncomplicated symptoms, while the rest will manifest complicated
symptoms that would require them to undergo dialysis or face eventual
More than half of the hospitals and medical clinics in the
greater Manila area were reportedly inaccessible due to the flooding
and water damage, or were short of supplies.
The Philippine Animal Welfare Society also struggled to stay
above the crisis, with help from rescuers sent by the Humane Society
International divison of the Humane Society of the U.S. and the World
Society for the Protection of Animals.
“The PAWS shelter has not been affected by the flood,”
e-mailed program director Anna Nieves Cabrera on September 28. Her
home and that of PAWS founder Nita Hontiveros Lichauco were also
safe, Cabrera said, but PAWS directors Heidi Guzon and Gwen
Protasio were trapped on the second floor of Guzon’s home with about
50 rescued cats, eight dogs, and no food.
“They and their animals are okay,” PAWS volunteer Rich
Illustre updated later. “The only casualties are their chickens,
whom they weren’t able to save from the fast-rising flood.”
Added Cabrera, “The head of our disaster relief team, May
Felix, lost one of her dogs when her house was hit by flash
Only three animals were brought to PAWS during the first 48
hours after Ketsana hit, Cabrera said, because “no one can even get
in or out of the flooded areas,” but the next two weeks became
hectic. “All PAWS volunteers have been out on rescue and relief
operations,” Cabrera reported. “We have fed 2,994 animals,
including dogs, cats, and a few cows, pigs and chickens, provided
veterinary care and treatment for 154 and rescued 26,” who joined 25
pets left at the shelter by people who “lost their houses and are
looking for a place to stay.”
Despite the leptospirosis risk, “Anna goes out to rescue
animals in flooded areas,” said Nita Hontiveros Lichauco. “Hundreds
of dogs and cats have been left to fare for themselves. Our shelter
is filled to the rafters.”