Updates from the Field: In the Heart of Hurricane Irma

September 12, 2017

The ASPCA is currently on the ground in Florida and South Carolina, assisting local emergency agencies and animal shelters to prepare for Hurricane Irma, and provide disaster response efforts for the animals impacted in its aftermath. Dick Green, ASPCA Senior Director of Disaster Response, is on the ground in Miami, providing updates from the field.

Latest Update September 12, 2017, 4:21 PM ET

Another day of recovery efforts in Miami. We were able to get units out just as soon as the curfew was lifted, but as we expected, there is widespread damage and a good chunk of the county is still without power. However, the roads are being cleared and folks are eager to be coming home.  The priority for the field units is to locate abandoned, tethered, and injured animals and get them to safety as quickly as possible, which MDAS will continue to do for most of this week.

As I mentioned yesterday, we need to make sure there is plenty of room for these animals so we are putting the finishing touches on our transport for tomorrow.  Our relocation team once again came through and identified two vehicles to help get the 100 animals from Miami to our shelter in South Carolina.  Moving that many animals is no easy task—each animal is examined by a veterinarian, behavior checks are performed, and since the animals are being transported out of state, health certificates are completed.  When the trucks arrive tomorrow morning, every animal will be ready to go with their paperwork, identification bands and a trip manifest for their journey up north. Our relocation teams will identify shelters across the country that are in the position to help find these animals homes, and our teams will start moving them to their new destinations just as quickly as we possibly can.  

An ASPCA responder cradles a tiny kitten at MDAS.

September 11, 2017, 9:44 AM ET

Yesterday was a wild ride with our highest wind gust at 120 MPH. Trees and signs going down, parking lots and streets flooding, and folks glued to the television for updates.  And then the power went out again, and this time stayed out for most of the day.  Miami is under a curfew until 8:00 A.M. this morning so there is an eerie silence outside, but life goes on inside the shelter.  The amazing folks from MDAS have been on shift for 2.5 days—unable to go home and sleeping on makeshift pads and cots.  Armed with flashlights and hearts of gold, the staff and ASPCA responders maintained the same level of care the animals have come to expect through some really tough physical and emotional times. 

The primary concern for today is to get the shelter ready for a potential spike in incoming animals as the community returns.  It’s very common following a storm to get calls for abandoned, injured, and stray animals, and the crew is ready to start responding.  However, the shelter is at max capacity, so last night the staff identified 100 animals that the ASPCA will move to our mega emergency shelter in South Carolina.  Our goal is to get those animals moved as early as tonight so that MDAS will be in a better position to take animals in. 

We are also preparing our response team in Atlanta, that will be ready to respond to potential requests of water and land rescue personnel and equipment, shelter staff, and of course supplies and equipment to help shelters get back on their feet.

September 9, 2017, 5:40 PM ET

On the evening of September 7, a team of three responders (Susan C., Chris B. and Angela C.) and I arrived in Miami, as thousands others were attempting to evacuate. We met with our amazing partners at Miami-Dade Animal Services (MDAS) the next morning and were immediately provided a conference room, the Weather Channel and a pot of coffee to start planning our Irma response. Unfortunately, none of us had any bedding, so we decided to join the remaining masses who were picking up last minute supplies. After some amazingly long lines, we are now proud owners of foam pads, blankets, pillows, and plenty of snacks and water to last for the next several days. We have staked out one of the innermost rooms on the first floor, and have our emergency radios ready for the incoming storm updates.

MDAS is a well-oiled machine when it comes to disaster preparedness and response. With over 200 staff, MDAS has now completed all of the steps needed to make sure their animals and staff will be safe as Irma approaches. There are approximately 650,000 people in the evacuation zone and the county has set up numerous shelters, four of which are pet-friendly. MDAS is assisting with sheltering over 620 animals while providing kennel staff and vet support, and has the ability to house about 1,000 animals if needed. In addition, wire cages have been secured and there is enough food and water for the influx of animals for two weeks—so we are in good shape for now.