Hurricanes are huge wind storms, coupled with torrential rain and massive flooding. The damage is beyond belief, and it’s widespread. Trees are knocked down and the power goes out. Water purification plants are submerged, wells get contaminated, and septic systems back up. Hurricane season happens when it’s hot, so when the power goes out, you sweat like the dickens and risk heat exhaustion while you’re struggling to deal with the incredible damage, and no toilets that work. Mosquitoes breed like crazy, snakes and all sorts of unsafe critters end up in strange places, like inside your house.
If the storm has been bad enough, most folks have left town, or are dealing with their own storm damage if they stayed. This means no stores, restaurants, fast food places or convenience stores are open, and no supplies are coming in, because the Walmart and supply trucks can’t run over 20 to 40 foot long trees lying in the road that are tangled in downed power lines. What does all this have to do with Hurricane Prep and your pets? Plenty. Most people who have never gone through a hurricane ( like me, until Rita hit ) and live in an area where one is about to hit, do the same thing every time…they all rush to the Walmart ( Kmart, Sam’s, Target, whatever) and join the rest of the people in the city who are swarming into the stores trying to buy enough supplies to last for one or two weeks.
Lake Charles has about 80,000 people. There are not usually 80,000 bottles of water in all of the combined grocery and outlet stores in that city. There aren’t even 40,000 bottles. Your town may not be as large as Lake Charles, but do the math…even if you live in a town of 5,000 people, you can bet if those people all run to the store for supplies at once, the supplies are going to run out before one fourth of the population has what it needs. For those of us with pets, this translates into: there aren’t thousands of cans/bags of pet food or kennels, either. Prep does not only mean, “prepare to get hit by a hurricane,” it means prepare to evacuate and survive a long, grueling trip, perhaps weeks away from home and supplies, along with months of disrupted services, goods and normal living, long after the storm has blown itself out.
Many months, not just one or two. It takes a month just to get half (many never return) of the townspeople back home, have the electricity restored (maybe) and the water running (maybe). It takes another month (maybe) before school starts again, and the service sector people can (maybe) come home. When Hurricane Rita hit Lake Charles, most of the people who had worked in the Sam’s Club, Lowes, Walmart, local stores, fast food places, etc, couldn’t come home to go to work. Their houses, apartments, trailers, etc., were un-inhabitable for the most part. Or just blown away. If you don’t have a place to live, you can’t come home and work.
The bigger chain stores imported workers from Texas in large buses, and then bussed them out at the end of the day, since there were no rooms left in town for them to stay overnight. Restaurants could not open and neither could fast food places…no supplies and no workers. The mall was closed, nearly all the local businesses and vets offices as well. This type of situation does not only affect humans, it affects animals. They also eat, drink, and could need medical care. Pets can get cut from storm debris like we did, they can get infections, or be injured. Hurricane prep means you must have enough food and water for your pets for the actual evacuation, but keep in mind: you will need even more supplies for them to survive even after you come home.
I am sure a lot of people reading this will say, “It’s too expensive. We don’t have the room to store supplies in quantities like that. We don’t have a large enough vehicle to carry it all when we evacuate, either.” My husband said the same thing, so did my kids. They all called me paranoid and over-reactive when I started storing Storm Supplies in an upstairs closet, after seeing what Katrina had done. When my husband and I came home to our damaged property after Hurricane Rita, I realized we had not done near enough in preparation. Six jugs of water lasts about three days for two people. And that’s only if its used it for drinking, not for washing or cooking. There was no water, power, plumbing, or air conditioning, and storm clean-up is dirty, hot, thirsty work.
I had been terribly upset at leaving our pets behind in Pennsylvania, but when I returned home and saw the extensive destruction, I was glad that we had. There was no way we could have fed or watered them after a few days, when supplies would have run out. Everything in the garage had been submerged under three feet of muddy, contaminated water, and had grown mold in the 100 degree heat. We wore masks while cleaning and still got nose bleeds from all the fungus and mold; it had grown clear to the ceiling of the garage. There was no way our ancient Shih-tzu’s would have been able to breathe. The cats would have walked over the mess, been cut from the broken glass and become infected. As for our Kuvasz and Irish Wolfhound, where would we have kept them?
All the fencing had blown down, their kennels and runs were destroyed. Trees, glass, pipes, wire, timber; we had a huge muddy debris field in our backyard from what the flooding had washed up. Dead fish from the bayou were scattered across the lawn, and wasps had somehow been blown into our house. Our deck was a foot deep in debris, branches, mud…under it all we found a number of smashed, dead birds. As the week wore on, roads were cleared and more people came home. Friends stopped over to see how we had fared; several called to ask if my kennels were still standing, and could we could keep their dog for a few days, since their place was a mess? We couldn’t help them, as nothing was left.
The old couple next door had one of our trees smashed through the second story of their house. They had evacuated, taking their cats with them, except for one they couldn’t find. He sustained a broken leg from the storm, and it’s a miracle the poor cat survived at all, as our entire street was under water for three days after the storm. When the old couple did come home, their truck got a flat tire from running over broken glass in the street, so they couldn’t get the cat to a vet…except most of the vets had evacuated, as had their staff. So we splinted and bandaged the poor cat up as best we could. This is just a tiny sample of what we faced for weeks. We didn’t even bring our teenagers home for nearly two months.
When the roads were finally cleared, I took a drive to check on my elderly friend with the poodles, to see if she had made it home. An enormous tree had smashed through the roof of her house and went clear down through both stories, causing extensive damage. The total interior of the house was heavily damaged by wind and water and had to be completely gutted. She, her husband, the pregnant females and the puppies were all living in a FEMA trailer parked in their driveway, while work on the house was being done. She had tripped walking up a set of cement stairs leading up to the FEMA trailer, had fallen off the side of these stairs and fractured her arm and collarbone. She was in a lot of pain and could barely manage to take care of herself, let alone over a dozen dogs and new puppies.
The animal shelters were overrun after Hurricane Rita, and some vets were left with animals whose owners never did come back to claim them. I took in stray cats left wandering in the streets, fed them, tried to locate their owners….no one ever came to claim them. We moved away one year after Hurricane Rita, and I took every one with me. One of the main reasons we went back north was that my mother was 83 and I wanted to be closer to her, just in case…and the hurricane had taken it’s toll on me, a bigger one than I realized at the time. I didn’t want to end up like our elderly neighbors…nearly 80 years old and with a 40 foot tree lying in our living room. Although I’m not afraid of hurricanes anymore, I hope I never experience another one…but it taught me a lot, the hard way.
You don’t have to copy my preparations in the event of a storm, but I’ll share some basics gathered from my experience, that may help you to keep your pets a little safer in a hurricane, should one ever be headed your way. Read on….