Hurricane Isabel's Impact on Virginia

Hurricane Isabel hit the Virginia coast with fury on Sept. 18. At its peak over the Atlantic, Isabel was a Category 5 hurricane (winds greater than 155 mph), sending coastal horse owners scrambling for safe shelter for themselves and their animals. When the storm hit land, it had faded to a Category 2 hurricane (winds from 96-110 mph and storm surges of six to eight feet), then dropped to a Category 1 (winds from 74-95 mph, accompanied by four- to five- foot storm surges). Winds were sustained at 50 mph, with gusts of up to 100 mph, as it moved inland.

Colonial Downs Racetrack in New Kent, Va. (about an hour from the Atlantic coast), opened its stables to horse owners in areas threatened by the impending hurricane. More than 400 horses were sheltered at the facility, all of which had to have a current negative Coggins test and a health certificate to be admitted. Horses from the Naval Weapons Station, Portsmouth and Newport News (Va.) Police Departments, Hampton University, and those of numerous private citizens took refuge at Colonial Downs. The Virginia Horse Center in Lexington, Va., also served as a shelter for evacuated horses.

Steve Jensen of Kentucky Farms in Yorktown, Va., sheltered 42 of his horses there. “One of my barns was very old,” he said. “The racetrack stalls were concrete. I didn’t want to take chances.”

On the East Coast, up to six million people were without power in the days following the storm and buildings sustained severe damage; however, the horses seemed to take it in stride.

Rob Lee, DVM, of Tidewater Equine Clinic in Williamsburg, Va., said, “Most horses seemed to weather the storm well,” he said. “The problems came when they arrived home. Because of downed fences and damaged barns, owners put horses in areas they weren’t accustomed to. They were also placed in pastures with horses they didn’t know. A lot of injuries were from horses being kicked and from jumping broken fences.”

Three horse fatalities have been reported in conjunction with Hurricane Isabel. A Poolesville, Md., horse was killed in the days after the storm by a falling tree, and two horses in Virginia died—one horse in the Chesapeake area and another which drowned near Harrisonburg.

Jeanne Hill, owner of Acquibob Farms in Chesapeake, Va., lost one of her horses in the storm after the roof flew off one of their barns. “Flying debris broke the horse’s leg,” she said, and her veterinarian came out in the midst of the hurricane and euthanized the horse. Before the storm, “We made a call, and put some of our horses in, and some of them out—he was one of the horses that was out. We had too many animals to take them somewhere. We’ve gone through many hurricanes before-—this is the worst one we’ve ever seen, and I’ve lived here all my life.”
--Becky Robinette Wright and Stephanie L. Church


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