Veterinary relief under way in deadly tornado’s wake

At least one Joplin, Mo., veterinary practice destroyed

May 23, 2011 (published)
By Jennifer Fiala

Tulsa Doc
Hundreds of animals are believed to be missing or displaced by yesterday's massive tornado in Joplin, Mo. Maggie Kelley and Trey Adams hug their dog, Saint, after finding him amid the rubble of her home.

Photo by Adam Wisneski, Tulsa World
Click here for larger view
Veterinarians are gathering in Joplin, Mo., to care for animals injured and displaced in the wake of the area’s deadliest tornado in more than a half-century.

With the city’s death toll at 116 and 30 percent of the city damaged, search and rescue dogs are said to be entering Joplin, situated in the southwest corner of Missouri near the Kansas and Oklahoma borders. 

The half-mile-wide F5 tornado hit the town at 5:41 p.m. CDT yesterday, cutting a 4-mile-wide strip through the city of 50,500 residents before continuing eastbound through more rural areas. (F5 refers to the intensity of the tornado and is the strongest category on the Fujita scale.) Seven to eight veterinary practices operate within Joplin. National and local media reports show entire neighborhoods blown away and flattened.

Dr. Linda Scorse, owner of the Joplin Veterinary Hospital and member of the Veterinary Information Network (VIN), says her practice was untouched by the tornado, but without power, she’s wary of taking in more than the eight cats and one dog she’s already boarding — at least until her husband can install a generator.

“It’s humid but cool enough that they’re OK today,” she said. “Tomorrow they’ll need fans.”

In the meantime, Scorse is doing what she can to help out with displaced animals, estimated by the Humane Society of Missouri to number 500 within the next couple of days. Right now, rescue workers are setting up shop at the Joplin Humane Society, which has a surgery suite but is not equipped to function as a triage center.

Scorse says authorities are looking for an empty warehouse to house animals rather than using tents because more severe weather is rolling into the area. Trucks on are their way loaded with supplies and cages, but there is not yet a central command center.

“It’s hectic,” Scorse says. She’s helping direct the relief efforts and has procured five generators from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). “I’m a member of the Missouri Emergency Management Committee, and I’m not a coordinator. But I sure feel like one today,” Scorse says.

Gov. Jay Nixon announced this morning that the damage had been declared a federal disaster. As a result, FEMA is extending assistance to the area.

A 15-member disaster response team with The Humane Society of Missouri reportedly was deployed to Joplin by the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency. The team, which is canvassing the area for displaced and injured animals, includes a veterinarian.

Dr. Charles Massengill with the Missouri Voluntary Veterinary Corps stated that he and his team of veterinarians and technicians are on standby, awaiting orders from FEMA to deploy. Veterinarians who volunteer must have a license to practice in the state.

“We don’t want to inundate them with resources,” he says. "We don't know what's needed."

Because relief efforts are in the early stages of getting organized, it's tough to point those who'd like to donate their services, money or supplies in the right direction, Massengill says. He added that collection points likely will go up throughout the state and more information could come from the Missouri Veterinary Medical Association.

Scorse hasn’t had a chance to survey damaged areas of Joplin but is bracing for a landscape that's dramatically changed.

“I’ve been through lots of tornadoes, but I have never seen a city this big get hit," she says. “I’ve been told that an estimated 1,000 homes have been destroyed, and one pet per family might be displaced.”

As of this afternoon, only the practice owned by Dr. Jim Christman had been confirmed destroyed. The message from his answering service: “Parkview Animal Hospital is no longer going to be open.” 

The VIN News Service could not reach Christman. His answering service noted that no animals were harmed in the facility.

Dr. Donald Loden, owner of Cornerstone Animal Hospital and a VIN member, responded to an interview request via e-mail. Loden noted that his practice is intact, but like much of the area, he’s without power and phone service.

His family is safe, but he has friends who have lost their lives and homes.  

“Probably half or more of my clients and friends are in the area that has been destroyed,” Loden writes. “Much of the town has been closed down unless you have a reason to be there. They are begging everyone to stay home.

“As soon as power is restored, we will open our office to try to meet the needs of pets. Based on spotty information, that may be several days. Beyond that, I do not know,” he adds. 

While Dr. Ben Leavens, owner of Main Street Pet Care, could not be reached, news of how his practice fared through the storm made it to the social networking site Facebook.

Despite the practice’s precarious location — 20th and Main Sts., near some of the most heavily damaged areas — the building survived and so did the animals inside. Practice staff announced that they would be taking in boarders at 4 p.m. today.

Displaced animals are listed on another Facebook page titled, “All animals lost and found, Missouri and surrounding states.”

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