Katrina: The long road to recovery

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Mar 01, 2006

NEW ORLEANS — About 1,100 veterinarians and 70 practices were located in Katrina's disaster zone according to early estimates from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). At presstime, no DVMs were reported missing or severely injured.


Officials relax red tape, issue temporary licenses
Only 15 percent of veterinary hospitals on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi are believed to have survived the storm, Mississippi Veterinary Medical Association (MVMA) officials report. In New Orleans, 36 practices were knocked out of commission.

What's being dubbed the most deadly and costly hurricane on record killed hundreds and relegated 96,000 square miles designated a federal disaster area. Of the estimated 483,000 animals living in the hurricane's path, 2,500 had been rescued as of Sept. 10, according to officials from the American Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Officials would not estimate the numbers of animals still awaiting rescue.

"At this point, recovery from something this massive isn't a sprint; it's a marathon," says Dr. E. Mac Huddleston, executive secretary of the Mississippi Veterinary Medical Association. "We will be feeling the effects from Katrina for years to come."


Displaced caretakers: In the wake of Katrina, veterinarians have lost practices, homes and still heed the call. Dr. Eugene Knispel feeds his neighbors cats in New Orleans Sept. 6 as many residents were reluctant to leave their pets alone.
Bland O'Conner, Louisiana Veterinary Medical Association's (LVMA) executive director, assesses the situation this way: "We haven't heard a lot from the practices, but we know they are in the same area and can draw our own conclusions that they are in serious trouble, too."

"Right now, veterinary hospitals close to the disaster area that are up and running are operating much like MASH units," reports former LVMA president Dr. David McGraw. "Every new challenge is different, and I thought we were prepared, but we weren't. I don't think veterinarians are given enough training to deal with human suffering that we should. Animals are attached to people, and it's really a challenge to deal with this. This hurricane was the worst nightmare come true in Louisiana."

Louisiana

In New Orleans, where the serious flooding damaged at least 36 practices, one hospital stayed open.

Metairie Small Animal Hospital, the area's largest practice, stood on high ground. Its DVMs rode out the storm and remained as the area's only semi-functional veterinary hospital after the winds died.

Katrina, however, was more than the skeleton crew of doctors and technicians could handle, Dr. Siegfried Mayer, one of six practice owners, tells DVM Newsmagazine in an interview.

"The generator was repaired once during the storm, and the alternator gave out shortly after," he says. "All the while, we were fielding calls from people wanting us to check on pets they'd left in homes."


Veterinary Surgeon Dr. Dan Beaver and Dr. Cindy Lang, a resident at the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine, examine "Parker" in the triage unit of the Temporary Animal Shelter set up in the Parker Coliseum at LSU in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Three veterinarians stayed to care for the 180 patients/boarded animals while most of its staff, which lived primarily in New Orleans, fled.

Once it became apparent the generator and supplies would not hold out, the doctors began devising an evacuation plan.