One Mississippi Vet's Stories of the Aftermath

"Every life was changed overnight in this area. Every life in America was changed. What if we did get attacked by a foreign country? I can tell you now that it would be like it is here."

This quote was from Jacqueline Broome, DVM, a mixed practice veterinarian from Gulfport, Miss., who managed to save 30 horses on her farm by turning them loose to weather the storm with their natural instincts, but she lost 29 of the animals in her clinic in town.

VMAT-2 surveys the damage at Dr. Broome's Clinic.

Photo Courtesy of Dr. Edward Feinberg

Broome describes herself as a tough broad, who in her 40s has seen and done enough in life to toughen her to what is reality for people, and animals. Yet she also admits that she has cried every day since the hurricane hit.

Broome had decided to ride out the hurricane at her clinic, but when her sister, who is nurse, called and said their mother was having chest pains, she closed the clinic, loaded up a couple of blind horses and some dogs, and headed north to keep an eye on her mother.

She was told that when a 20-foot wall of water started through Gulfport, several locals on jet skis tried to get to the clinic, knowing there were animals inside, but it was impossible.

Once she was able to get back to Gulfport, Broome immediately went to her clinic. She stood outside and cried, knowing the fate of the animals inside. She was standing outside her clinic when the Veterinary Medical Assistance Team 2 (VMAT-2) arrived to help. They were able to take the dogs and respectfully bury them. She said Dr. Edward Feinberg, who was with the VMAT-2 team, "had a heart bigger than he was!"

Then she hand-printed a sign to her clients stating: "All animals left here have died. We have buried them for you. I have no way of expressing my grief. I will be here cleaning up Thursday on. My prayers are with you."

Broome said during her interview, "I'm not going back in that building. It's not a medical facility any more. It's a place of death and darkness, and I don't want to be there."

She said many veterinarians in Louisiana and Mississippi left animals in vet clinics, and many lost animals. "I lost 29. Another shelter in New Orleans lost 39. I at least could bury bodies. Other clinics lost the bodies (when the storms or surge tides washed the buildings away). It was the same with people."

Broome said that's one thing the locals have an issue with when people outside the area discuss what happened: It wasn't a flood that came up slowly; it was a wall of water that came suddenly and viciously, and it wiped out everything in its path.

"This was a wave like the tsunami," she described. "Winds of 160 miles per hour pushing a wall of Gulf of Mexico water. It wasn't a flood, it was a bomb.

"And you can't leave out what happened to the people," reminded Broome. "One woman was clinging to debris with her dead baby and her 2-year-old child," said Broome of a story told to her by neighbors. "She let baby drift away to hang on to her 2-year-old."

Broome's farm was destroyed. She described the scene: "Roofs were lifted up. Buildings were washed off their foundations. Believe it or not, a house trailer survived. So did the chickens, peacocks, and turkeys; not one of them went missing. All 30 horses did fine and had no injuries."

Broome said the hurricane, "set us back 20 years. How do you practice for something never happened before? We can rescue horses from mud or use a noose to catch wild animals to save them from themselves, but when you've got nothing to work with, dead bodies, and a lot of mud..."

She added with some attempt at humor that the horses are going to have to learn to live in open because there were no barns in the area any more.

Broome said one person from South Carolina was frustrated because he wanted to come help, "and I commended him, but this isn't Florida; you're either alive, or you're dead."

In previous Florida hurricanes, many animals were injured by flying debris and needed medical help. In Mississippi, the wave of water and the force of the hurricane and associated tornadoes destroyed most of the buildings and their inhabitants--human or animal.

"Several barns collapsed and all the horses were killed," said Broome. "Several people had horses get out and can't find them, but they've seen tracks."

Unfortunately, said Broome, there were unscrupulous individuals who came in to "rescue" horses in the name of recognized groups, only for the owners to later discover that the animals had been stolen and probably sold to slaughter.

"Lot of people lost horses to 'good Samaritans,' " she said.

For a week after storm, she said there were horses running around. "They were just loose, not injured," said Broome. "We didn't have the massive outbreaks of sickness that were predicted. There's no West Nile virus yet. One of my colleagues has seen a confirmed encephalitis (EEE) case. Tetanus, which we thought we would see a lot in animals and people, hasn't materialized.

"I hate to see article about people or animals," said Broome. "They are interwoven. How many people died staying with animals? How many dogs died staying with their families?"

Caring and Sharing

"Everybody cares," said Broome. "If you have a heart and soul, you care. But taking that caring and doing something is different."

She said it was the neighbors and the churches that actually were the first to respond to needs in Mississippi in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

"The churches and individual organizations have supported us," said Broome of the immediate aftermath. "Yes the National Guard has been here, but churches and neighbors were here first. The roads were not cleared by National Guardsmen, but by neighbors.

"I have friends in Tennessee and Kentucky, and I got in touch with them and said I needed gas, diesel, food, and water. Can you get it here?" she recalled. "They are retired merchant Marines and horseshoers and re-enactment guys. They were here in 24 hours."

Those individuals The Horse has interviewed in Mississippi in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina have said what is seen on television is not the whole picture. They say telecasters are showing the physical destruction, and sometimes even the heart-breaking or heart-warming stories of rescue of humans and animals whose lives were forever changed by Hurricane Katrina. What they aren't showing is the dichotomy of those left...the tenacity of the survivors, and the grief of those same people.

"The care, the love, the kindness, and the concern have been from communities and churches and individuals," said Broome. "I feel like saying God Bless America. You don't see this in other countries. They don't take care of each other like we do."

When asked whether there were lootings and fighting like occurred in New Orleans, she said while there were reports of problems, some racially motivated, in New Orleans, in the hardest-hit areas of Mississippi, it was neighbor helping neighbor. "All the racial stuff goes by just trying to help each other," she said.

While "official reports" put the death toll in Mississippi at about 300, eyewitnesses say at least 3,000 bodies that have been recovered, and many others have still not been found and might never be recovered. There were stories of loose dogs forming packs and feeding on bodies and carcasses in the weeks following the storms.

One search and rescue worker's wife, a horse owner herself who lost three homes to hurricanes while she was growing up on the coast of Mississippi, said her "tough" husband would call and cry after a day of work because of the overwhelming emotions from finding and recovering human remains in coastal towns.

Broome said there were storm bunkers built to hold extended families...boxcars or the like buried in the ground, re-enforced, and stocked with necessary supplies to survive during and after a storm. They had generators, food, fuel, and chain saws that they put to use getting to neighbors and those in need once the storm passed.

"I'm not going to be ugly about government," said a philosophic Broome. "The VMAT did what they could in helping me dispose of animals, but actual physical help came from the local structure.

"This isn't a criticism--everybody got help that needed it, but reaction time was slow and disorganized," said Broome. She said even the VMAT teams were frustrated.

Animals that survived were usually saved by neighbors, said Broome, and they've bonded.

"I can't tell you how many times I've gotten a call to pick up an animal someone found, and by time I got there, they decided to keep it," said Broome. "The feeling was that, ‘It survived and so did we, so we'll keep it.' "

Broome recalled that Dr. Mac Huddleston, secretary of the American Veterinary Medical Association, called her after the storm to assess her situation.

"Just knowing that this person called and said "We're out here and we're worried,' that just blew me away," said Broome.

Broome owns a total of 115 horses in various locations, and she took a trailer full of horses to Texas where many of her relatives live in order to relocate a few the weekend of the 24th, when Rita hit. She and the horses survived the trip, and she's back home in Gulfport.

Broome has been working in Gulfport via her cell phone, but service is still spotty. Clients will see her on the street and need her services, or they'll call and she'll meet them somewhere.

"All my clients, I see them everywhere," Broome said. "That's made a difference. I feel loved, needed. I have value. The underlying common thread is the animals. Doesn't matter what kind."

The Vets of Mississippi

There has been a tremendous outpouring of financial and supply donations for those hit by Hurricane Katrina. "It's been hard for me to say, ‘Yes, give that for me,' " said Broome. "Veterinarians are normally independent critters. I didn't go to human medicine because I didn't want to be in a hospital. As a vet, I have to adjust to client's need as well as the animal's. You can't do $500 tests to every animal. That's what makes the difference."

To benefit veterinarians in Mississippi, the state's Veterinary Medical Association has set up a fund to help animals, and the veterinarians who care for them. Anyone wishing to help horses, horse owners, veterinarians, or small animals in Mississippi should contact the Mississippi Animal Relief Fund toll-free at 888/722-3106. (Be patient, it might take a while to get through.) Donations can be mailed to Mississippi Animal Relief Fund, 209 S. Lafayette, Starkville, MS 39759.

Donations of goods and equipment can also be made through the Mississippi Animal Relief Fund. The state veterinary medical association and some vets at the university's vet school are creating lists of needs from practitioners and will allocate funds, equipment, and supplies as they are needed.

"To keep it fair, those of us who lost everything need help worst," she said. "If companies donate free product, it will keep us in business. The only reason we're here is the animals need us. We need the animals. It's important that it balances."

There was a meeting of Mississippi veterinarians in mid-September. Huddleston told the group there would be help coming, but it might take a little while.

"We'll get loans and rebuild," said Broome. "Meanwhile, people need help, and animals need services from their own veterinarians."

She said some of the younger veterinarians "are panicking because they don't have anything and still have bills," explained Broome. "Some older vets had their clinics paid for, and now have nothing to show for all those years of work. They say, ‘Why do I have to decide to live in my clinic and sell my house, or get a second mortgage?' It would be easier for them to move elsewhere, but they want to stay."

Broome is going to put up a metal building for her clinic. In explaining again how the locals have stepped up to help in the immediate aftermath, she said no fewer than four veterinarians, "some I don't even know," have offered help. "Some even handed me keys (to their clinics)."

Broome said not everyone is leaving area, although there are many who have been forced to leave to find a place to live and work. Seven of her employees from the clinic have been forced to travel elsewhere to live and work.
"There is a future here," she said. "It's going to be slow (to rebuild). It's going to take the people of the United States to make it work, not the government.

"I'm not going anywhere," she said. "This is my life's vocation; it's what I love. It's been a choice I've never veered from. There is plenty of help for animals in this area. We need help for the vets. That is the push from our state vet is that you are not taking away from the animals if you help the vets.

Life in the Hurricane Zone

"There's an appreciation of that meal and that child, those are getting back to basics," said Broome. "Not having TV or phone or radio; having to drive to tell something to someone. Walking to save gas. Having families living with each other.

"People are being kinder, more helpful, more patient," she added. "Everybody is helping everybody."

When asked how people might help her in particular, she said, "We're raised to not ask for things. But I think I've given a different answer to everyone who's asked me. Get in touch with me personally and see what stage I'm at. I can use a blood machine. Collars. At any given point I could say, 'Here's my list.' Right now I'm at ground zero. No X-ray or ultrasound or anesthesia machines. I might have some things that can be salvaged."

She then said donations through the Mississippi Animal Relief Fund will be allocated to veterinarians based on need. "Individuals who were wiped out need to be talked to on an individual basis," she said.

"What' I've learned in all this is that people feel good when they can do something to help and make a difference," she explained. "In many ways, people who want to help are as frustrated as we are."

While she still hadn't seen television coverage of the hurricane's aftermath, she said, "There's got to be a balance of the bad and good. Everyone is going to work and the lights are working; it's not so real any more. It's like when they quit showing the bombing of the Twin Towers. They need to show the dead bodies and animals and chickens floating on the beach."

She said some people just sit on slabs that used to be the foundation of their homes or businesses and look around.

But, she adds, "If we had to have a disaster in the United States, then it was good it was in the south. It's a practical culture. A matter of fact culture. A working culture. All those things count."

About the Author

Kimberly S. Brown

Kimberly S. Brown was the Publisher/Editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care from June 2008 to March 2010, and she served in various positions at Blood-Horse Publications since 1980.

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