Storm Stories - Veterinarians share their trials following back-to-back hurricanes

Storm Stories - Veterinarians share their trials following back-to-back hurricanes

Nov 01, 2005

Gulfport, Miss.

Veterinary students tend to the walking wounded at LSU's intensive care unit.
"I never felt so helpless in my life," says Dr. Dennis Selig, a Gulfport, Miss., veterinarian, recalling his emotion during Hurricane Katrina. "I couldn't stop anything from being ruined. I thought about how family and friends were holding up and before the storm was over, I was thinking about what I would need to do to fix everything. What Hurricane Katrina didn't finish off, Rita did."

The apartments next door to Selig's practice have been condemned due to damage, he says.

"During the storm, it seemed only as bad as other hurricanes in the past. The extent of the damage wasn't fully known until afterwards. There were some white-knuckle moments when I could hear shingles and tar-paper being ripped off; it was pretty frightening."

The Northwood Hills Veterinary Hospital is located 12 miles north of the beach.

"I have a policy that I stay at the clinic when things like this happen. I sent my family away and stayed with the 50 boarded animals during both storms. During Katrina, the animals handled the banging of metal and falling trees much better than I did."

Despite the anxiety felt during the storms, Selig says emotions felt afterward were overpowering.

"The first emotion of gratitude was felt from the outpouring support from the veterinary community: thoughts, prayers and compassion from all walks of life. Second to that is the reality of what a mess we're left with."

Veterinarians are trying to rebuild some semblance of a practice after Katrina crushed buildings and took out electricity for three weeks. But many whose practices flooded are finding insurance carriers aren't paying out, Selig says.

"I am fortunate my practice did not flood," he adds. "At least three other area veterinarians found it wasn't only insurance carriers who refused to pay for repairs to their practice. Banks will not give loans either, saying there is no demand for a veterinary clinic in the now sparsely populated area.

"My practice is one of the few that are operational right now. We have to make repairs still, but overall, we're very grateful."

Pass Christian, Miss.

Dr. Ron Hunt of Pass Christian Veterinary Hospital didn't fare as well.

"This has been the most difficult trial of my career."

In coping with the 2,000 animals moving through the Louisiana State University Parker Coliseum shelter, DVMs needed a quarantine area to avoid potential disease spread.
Hunt not only lost his practice; he made the grizzly discovery that all 20 boarded animals in his hospital drown from Katrina's tidal surge.

To make matters more difficult, client records were destroyed, so there was no way to contact owners, Hunt says. "I have to wait for them to get in touch with me." The one's that did were angry, Hunt says quietly.

"I never thought the clinic would become completely submerged; it never even occurred to me that this would happen. The least I could do was give the animals a proper burial and apologize," he adds.

Hunt reluctantly left his home and practice once officials announced a mandatory evacuation. His family had already traveled north while he considered riding the storm out at his home.

Hunt's practice is now covered in mold, while the ceiling and walls are buckled and caving in from the moisture.