Archived News

Veterinary Medical Assistance Team saves animals stranded by Eastern flooding from Hurricane Floyd

September 28, 1999

INTRO: Recent floods resulting from Hurricane Floyd's devastating path through North Carolina caused severe hardship to people and animals. During the week of September 18, 1999, Professor John Madigan and student Jacqueline Whittemore, both of the school's Veterinary Medical Assistance Team, answered an emergency call for help from the International Fund for Animal Welfare and conducted specialized rescues, including airlifting large animals from flooded areas to safety. Here, in their own words, are some of their experiences.

John Madigan relates:

On September 18th I received a call from a veterinarian in the North Carolina Emergency Operations Center requesting assistance for animal rescue expertise in the midst of the worst flooding in the history of the state. The International Fund for Animal Welfare agreed to sponsor travel expenses for a team to travel to North Carolina. Senior veterinary student Jacqui Whittemore and I organized rescue equipment, emergency supplies, and water gear. We flew to Raleigh-Durham that evening and were deployed by helicopter to the eastern part of North Carolina the morning of September 19.

During the next week we performed five helicopter airlifts of stranded horses, using Tennessee Air National Guard Blackhawk helicopters. Many of our activities took place in and around the areas of Kinston and Grifton, NC. We conducted one night airlift, after which I treated the horses at a rural farm house. We performed boat rescues of cows, pulling them off roofs and through water to higher ground. We also moved several horses on the ground through high water to safety. I went on one midnight farm call via high-wheeled tractor across flooded roads to treat a horse with colic.

We performed aerial reconnaissance looking for stranded horses and cattle, and we flew in hay where needed. We obtained airlift for pet food to isolated towns. As the waters began receding, our week ended on Friday with a night flight in a Blackhawk helicopter back to Raleigh and the trip home to Davis on Saturday, September 25.

It was a challenging week, physically and emotionally, with catastrophic losses exceeding 500,000 farm animals. The devastation to the state and the people of North Carolina, many without homes and nothing left but the clothes they were wearing, was a tragic situation. We were overwhelmed by the gratitude, the thanks, the hugs, and the tears of the people whose animals we helped. We were also struck by the media coverage of our efforts and realized that such reports let the people of the state know that others, in this case veterinarians from the University of California, had come to help. As one news article stated, "It was a bright spot in a day with little else but devastation."

The organizational and rescue participation of Jacqui Whittemore was outstanding. Her goal is to pursue a career in veterinary disaster medicine; this unique opportunity has given her insight and training that will be the foundation of a most valuable career.

Some comments from Jacqueline Whittemore, coordinator of the Veterinary Medical Assistance Team:

Animal rescue is about humans. It's not about one horse, or one dog. It's so much more elemental. For example, we saved the horse of a man who had lost everything. He was one of the burly, stoic men we met who gave us bear hugs and told us how much our actions meant to them.

In Lenoir County, outside the town of Kinston, I got an emergency animal shelter going with the help of Connor Michael from IFAW. We set up housing areas, intake, identification and reclamation procedures for, and performed exams on, small animals being evacuated by an American Humane Association crew by boat.

Some people want to know why resources should be used to save animals when so many people have needs. During a disaster, animal rescue has a rejuvenating effect on the community. Here's why. A woman moving to a new home as the flooding hit had retreated to her old farmhouse. She had taken in animals for 30 farmers as well as a family who had been flooded out of their home, but she had been unable to retrieve her own cats from the new house where they had already been moved. She was caring for animals and people (and put us up for several nights), but we didn't see her smile once. When John (Madigan) brought her cats in safely, the smile on her face could make you cry.

This woman told us that she thought we were angels. But even as community asked us for help, people helped each other--and us--in return. Several dogs were trapped on a bridge, and no one could get to them. The local fire chief appealed to us, and we arranged for sacks of dog food to be dropped by air so the animals wouldn't go hungry while waiting for rescue. The military helped make a lot of things happen, including phone calls that smoothed our way to rescues and airlifting of supplies. We knew we had given people hope.

When we left for Raleigh on the last day, the woman in the farmhouse--the one with her five cats--was still smiling.

The UC Davis-Veterinary Medical Assistance Team is a volunteer service of faculty, residents, students, and staff at the School of Veterinary Medicine who provide emergency animal rescue assistance and specific forms of veterinary medical care during a declared disaster.

Photos courtesy of Vincent De Witt/International Fund for Animal Welfare