Katrina Strands Many; Rescuers Wait for Evaluation of Worst Hit Areas

Katrina's fury has been felt widespread in Louisiana and Mississippi, scattering storms and high winds across hundreds of square miles. Many horse owners are likely stranded in the storm's wake, says Bonnie Clark, publisher of the Horseman's Guide of the South Central Region, who is currently stuck at her farm north of Baton Rouge, La. She thinks Katrina's devastation could rival or even surpass that of Hurricane Andrew, which hit in 1992, and she suggested that horse owners who want to help should hold tight and wait for specially trained rescue teams to perform their duties.

"We took a nice slap in the face," Clark describes. "Yesterday I was standing in my living room on the phone discussing the storm with someone, and I said, 'Oh, my God!' as a tree began to fall on my three horses. Luckily, they saw it and scooted out from underneath the tree as it fell, and they were fine." In addition to that tree was another that landed on her office, but her family and horses fared well. But Clark is concerned about areas of heavy horse population in Louisiana that might not have been able to evacuate before the storm. She encourages people who know of pockets in Louisiana that weren't able to evacuate their horses to contact her at bonnie@lahg.net. "That way we'll know where to look," when equine rescue efforts begin, she says.

"We don't have any reports yet, because they're still trying to find people. I don't have a report on how the horses did, but there are probably quite a few that were drowned," she continues. "One of our concerns is the Slidell area--we have a lot of horses over there--and also the Covington area (east of Baton Rouge in the toe of the Louisiana "boot"). Those areas took a lot of wind damage, and they can't get anybody in there right now, that's the problem."

Clark says she's been able to get limited television reception and saw a report in which a public official reported that during a flyover he saw livestock carcasses floating in flooded areas.

"We're kind of all on standby," she continues, adding that state veterinary officials will meet to review assessments from the field and plan response.

The American Veterinary Medical Association's Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams (VMAT) have been deployed and are ready to help injured and displaced animals. According to VMAT disaster updates from Cindy Lovern, DVM, MS, assistant director of emergency preparedness and response at the AVMA, VMAT-3, led by Dr. Jim Hamilton, was staged in Anniston, Ala. yesterday evening awaiting further instruction. That group was set for a possible mission in Mississippi after damage assessments were made. Last night, VMAT-5, led by Dr. Garry Goemann, was relocating from Memphis, Tenn. to Dallas, Texas, to await damage assessments and an assignment from Louisiana Emergency  Management near New Orleans "or in the closest location as is possible and safe," continues the VMAT report. Another team was readying in Dallas for mission assignments.

"Each VMAT has a designated person assigned to communicate with the local veterinary contacts including the state VMA (veterinary medical association), the State Veterinaraian, and in some cases, the State Public Health Veterinarian," says Lovern in her latest update.

Clark says many horse owners have offered to help with the actual rescue and recovery of horses--she discourages this because it is extremely dangerous and officials do not want to add to the list of casualties.

Additionally, a lot of horse owners out-of-state have offered space to keep homeless horses that are recovered. She stresses, however, that the horses should be kept in evacuation housing close to where they were located to increase the chances that they will be reconnected with their owners. "We appreciate everyone's wishes, but right now the best assistance would be to add their farm to the list of evacuation sites, "because this is not the last hurricane."

The anticipated need at this point would be financial aid. Currently, you can donate to the VMAT teams. Visit www.avmf.org/html/WhatWeDo.asp#vmat to make a secure donation. Fencing will likely be needed in the near future, but these needs are still being assessed.

Readying for Future Hurricanes
Clark says Katrina has been a wake-up call for many area horse owners. "Something I really try with my book (the Guide) to hammer in is the need to have a current Coggins on-hand.

"I was getting phone calls up until 2:30am on Sunday morning from people that were frantic and wanting to move their horses that did not have current Coggins," she adds. For the horses that had to be left behind, she suggested that they get a "Marks-a-Lot or spray paint and write an out-of-area phone number on their horses. Even though the horses may be (micro-) chipped, we might not have readers available. If we could call a number and reach someone in an area where phones are working, this would help facilitate getting horses back to their owners.

"It has to be someone outside of the affected areas and someone who would know where you were," she continues, since phones (even mobile phones) are generally inoperable in an area that has been hit. "That was critical in Andrew because we had no way of knowing who these horses were.

She praises and thanks the people who have offered their assistance in helping Katrina victims. "If everyone will kind of sit tight until we can get the information out, we'll let you know how you can help. We have trained response teams to come in and do the rescue effort…the teams have to do this logically and safely."

About the Author

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.

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