South Carolina veterinarians dig out from epic flood

Water rose almost to roof of one clinic

October 9, 2015 (published)
By Phyllis DeGioia

Photo by Dr. Tracy Wales
Four Paws Animal Clinic, located in a floodplain in Columbia, South Carolina, was heavily damaged by last weekend’s mammoth rainstorm.
No animals were inside Four Paws Animal Clinic in Columbia, South Carolina, when a 1,000-year flood hit the region Sunday. Aware a massive storm was coming, the veterinarians had transferred overnight patients to an emergency hospital.

That was a wise move, because floodwaters rose within a foot of the clinic’s flat rooftop.

Three days later, there was still a foot of water in the clinic. Co-owner Dr. Nori Warren’s husband and brother spent all day Wednesday pumping it out. They managed to complete the job by afternoon, revealing heavy damage. Warren and her business partner Dr. Tracy Wales own the building as well as the practice.

Not much was unscathed. “We have one thermometer, period,” Wales reported with a rueful laugh.

Last weekend’s deluge brought rain measured not by the inch but by the foot in parts of South Carolina. A map shows Oct. 1-5 rainfall totals reaching 12.45 inches in downtown Columbia; 22.78 inches in Dalzell, about 40 miles east of Columbia; and 27.15 inches in the coastal town of Mount Pleasant.

It’s being called a 1,000-year flood — the kind of rare event that has a 1-in-1,000 chance of happening in a given year.

Four Paws’ owners understood they were vulnerable. Their building is located on low ground near Gills Creek, about 80 yards from Forest Lake Dam. The creek wraps around the clinic.

“We are situated in a bad spot,” Wales said.

Pumps were employed around the neighborhood to move water out. Warren’s husband borrowed the equipment from friends.

“We sit in a little bowl,” Wales explained. “Water was sitting on us [and] couldn’t get up over the creek’s bank to get into the creek.  We had to pump it over.”

To make matters worse, the storm drain in front of the clinic backed up. “It was flowing backwards and water was rising out of it into our bowl,” she said.

A second Columbia veterinary hospital, The Cat Clinic, located about two miles from Four Paws, also was damaged. Floodwaters rose 1½ feet inside. On Friday, receptionist Michele Higgins answered telephone calls from a folding table under a tent in the parking lot.

“We have no way to see clients,” Higgins told the VIN News Service. “Right now, they have blowers trying to dry it out. We will start reconstruction when it's dry.”

Four Paws’ veterinary team, which includes two associates, has continued to practice as best it can. The owners' to-do list ranges from the major (figure out where to locate temporarily) to the medium (buy stethoscopes and laptops) to the minor (buy gloves for a house call to express a dog’s anal glands).

After reaching out to the manufacturer of their practice-management software, the clinic received from the company by overnight mail an external hard drive containing a copy of the clinic database.

Photo by Dr. Tracy Wales
At the peak of the flood, Four Paws Animal Clinic was nearly submerged.
When Wales visited the home of a patient who just had major surgery, she found that the owners needed a refill of pain medication. Because the clinic pharmacy was ruined — medicine bottles were in the ceiling, under mud and otherwise spread out around the clinic — Wales advised the client to take her cat to another veterinarian to obtain the drugs she needed.

About 10 veterinary clinics in the area have offered help. Garners Ferry Animal Hospital, for example, is offering free heartworm tests and exams to Four Paws patients to enable their owners to purchase heartworm prevention. Other clinics are seeing Four Paws patients so they can refill other types of prescriptions.

Two clinics invited the Four Paws team to work out of their locations temporarily.

Another possible option is to rent a place previously used as a veterinary clinic. “At this point we don't know if we'll be able to rebuild,” Wales said, because their building is in a floodplain.

“Our building was grandfathered in and we were not permitted to expand beyond the slab,” she said. “If we did rebuild, it would have to elevated …

“This is the first time this has happened in the history of time here,” she continued. “Clearly, there will be lots of new dams built, as there's been so much dam damage. Hopefully, next time it rains this much, it should be in better condition. I guess I'd like to rebuild in this place, but it depends on how much is salvageable.”

Whatever the future brings, Wales is prepared to roll with it. Meantime, she takes heart in the community response.

“It's just amazing!” Wales said. “Our practice is in a tiny town called Forest Acres that annexed itself into Columbia. We have a handful of police officers, and one was murdered the other day on the job. The funeral was on Saturday. Our city has been through a lot. Crowdfunding raised almost $200,000 for his wife and 6-month old baby. His wife was out yesterday helping distribute food to those whose homes are lost.”

A client of Four Paws Animal Clinic, Maribeth Word, set up a crowdfunding site for the animal hospital. The effort has raised more than $33,000 in three days.

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