It is prudent to describe Hurricane Sandy as a super storm. Sandy was the largest hurricane recorded in the Atlantic and when combined with several other storm fronts it had a devastating impact on humans, animals and the environment along the East Coast.
New Jersey and New York were especially impacted. Unfortunately, three-quarters of the veterinary clinics in New York City are in low-lying areas and categorized as zone A evacuation areas. Many clinics were severely flooded and those that were able to open had difficulties finding staff for their offices. Veterinary offices that flooded lost millions of dollars in equipment and supplies such as x-ray machines, ultrasounds and refrigerated medications.
Clients and patients requesting pet food, boarding and medical treatment for their animals immediately swamped the clinics that were able to operate. The most common medical issues were small lacerations, contaminated water exposure resulting in toxicities and skin irritation, stress and anxiety. A primary concern of veterinarians and the NY Veterinary Emergency Team Response (NY VERT) was preventing the spread of infectious diseases. This concern was addressed by administering prophylactic vaccinations against rabies to animals in shelters.
Hundreds of animals were rescued and taken to temporary shelters until their owners were able to care for them again. A limited number of pet-friendly shelters were available for pet owners to bring their animals with them. Veterinary clinics that could operate had their kennels filled to capacity with animals. A 24-hour hotline was established by the Humane Society of the United States, New Jersey Office of Management, USDA and New Jersey Department of Agriculture to re-unite New Jersey state residents with their pets.
Although pets were predominately hit, animals in aquariums and zoos were also impacted. The Wildlife Conservation Society's four zoos- Bronx, Central Park, Prospect Park and Queens did not experience serious damage however the the New York Aquarium was badly hit.
The NY Aquarium practically straddles the Atlantic on Boardwalk St. is home to more than 12,000 marine lives. When the storm hit, the water by-passed the sandbagged flood doors to enter through vents and ducts to fill the basement with 15 feet of water. The floodwater knocked out the aquarium’s electrical transformers and damaged its electrical distribution system rendering the emergency generators useless. Pumps and motors used for oxygenating the aquariums, filtering and heating were ruined.
When the floodwater began to rush in the aquarium’s director and staff prepared to relocate their collection to aquariums along the East Coast. They were particularly concerned about open tanks that were vulnerable to an influx of seawater. Yet a miracle happened, the cold ocean water that did fill the tanks sat on top of the warm tank water- creating a striation, which did not penetrate the layer occupied by the fish. The only causalities were the koi fish that had been placed into temporary holding pools while their exhibit was being renovated.
Although Hurricane Sandy was devastating, the coordinated efforts of numerous organizations mitigated the potential effects of the super storm. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals provided shelter and supplies during the evacuation and has provided long-term care for animals. The Animal Care and Control of NYC led field rescues, emergency sheltering and reunification. The Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals provided supplemental shelters and transportation for animals. The Humane Society of the United States contributed resources and administrative support during the evacuation. NYC VERT helped resolved animal medical matters and was responsible for the establishment of more than 150 veterinary clinics and 200 additional veterinarians. If you feel inspired by the actions of veterinarians and animal’s societies please consider making a donation to the ASPCA or HSUS.