Veterinarians encounter Irene

Accounts mixed on storm's impact

August 29, 2011 (published)
By Jennifer Fiala

Dr. Greg Dowd describes the scene from his home in Arlington as "being surrounded by a moat." In just a few hours, a nearby river flooded the five acres of pasture that his home sits on, filling his basement with six feet of water and stopping mere feet from his front door. The only way out is by boat, he says. Photos courtesy of Dr. Greg Dowd
Dr. Mark Grossman ignored the evacuation warnings. Instead, he made rounds, visiting his practice and colleagues as Hurricane Irene made landfall on Saturday along North Carolina's coast. He even watched the waves hit the beach. 

It wasn’t until he drove into his condominium’s parking lot that the veterinarian on Roanoke Island encountered danger.

A flash flood surrounded Grossman's Ford Flex, quickly rising to three feet. Grossman, who’s encountered several hurricanes while on the island, made a snap decision to open his door. Water poured in as he pulled out a wary German shepherd from his back seat. 

“Little did we know that Pirates Cove would flood worse than ever,” recalls Grossman, speaking of his condominium complex, usually chock full of tourists. “We had huge winds and heavy rain, but it wasn’t so terrible. Then I was driving and the water started coming up so fast. I got out and the water was three feet high. The dog looked at me like was I crazy. I pulled her out and she started swimming.” 

Grossman waded to safety. Parked in an underground garage, he lost a second vehicle to the flood. But he didn’t lose his home, and his family is safe. Grossman's practice even saw emergency cases. 

“I have a really hard time leaving the clinic behind,” Grossman says of his decision to wait out the storm. “You leave the clinic, and you’ve got animals in there, and who knows when you can get back? The weather was just windy and rainy. None of us expected the flood to be that bad.”

By the time Irene struck the North Carolina Outer Banks and surrounding areas, the hurricane, hyped to be a mega-storm, had lost steam. It dwindled from a category 3 to a category 1 in intensity, representing the lowest of five categories distinguished by the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale, with wind speeds of 74 to 95 mph.

Despite the downgrade, Irene proved to be destructive, claiming the lives of at least 35 people along the East Coast, up into New England. As a rule, Grossman, who lives minutes from the ocean, will not evacuate unless an impending hurricane’s strength exceeds a category 3.

He's now rethinking that plan.

“The biggest problem was this storm’s size, not its intensity,” he says. “It was quite an experience. If this was a category 1, next time, I might be evacuating.”

So far, the biggest problem to face island residents has been a lack of electricity. Immediately after the storm, there was no power at Grossman's practice.

“So here I am doing an eye enucleation under light coming in from the windows. Not the best conditions, but it went great. The Chihuahua went home fine,” Grossman says.

He adds that while his practice and home fared well apart from missing shingles and siding, many of his employees are not as fortunate.

“I know a lot of employees with homes that are flooded. They have a lot of work to do, and I guess, so do I,” Grossman says. “Both of my cars are totaled.”

Dr. Greg Dowd is more worried about his home and family. Sitting on five acres, the equine veterinarian in Arlington, Vt., is surrounded by flood waters from the nearby Battenkill River. Water surrounds his home, which sits on a slight hill, and reaches six feet in his basement.

For now, Dowd, his wife and their two children, ages 3 and 1, are making do without electricity. They had to turn off their power when water reached the home’s circuit breaker box.

“The wind and the rain didn’t seem that bad,” recalls Dowd of the hurricane as it hit Vermont and headed inland. “But our house is now surrounded by a moat. We have six feet of water in our basement, and it’s three feet from coming into the main floor. This all happened in a few hours. It's crazy. We can’t get out without kayaks.”

To pass time, Dowd and his wife painstakingly monitor the water level. Dowd’s car is parked two inches from the house and water is up to its tires. The sun is shining, but so far, there’s little sign that things are getting drier.

“We don’t have flood insurance,” he says. “We have drywall in the basement, and our washer and dryer are completely under water. The big picture: We’ll be fine. This is just a headache.”

That’s the sentiment of many along the Eastern Seaboard, where Hurricane Irene was expected to cause catastrophic damage but for most, caused mere inconveniences. Officials in New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Vermont did not report the dispatch of emergency veterinary personnel or animal rescue efforts.

Dr. Jessica Schoell in Sicklerville, N.J., described fallout in her area from Hurricane Irene as little more than tree damage.

“In a nutshell, we had wicked rain and wind, but only one large tree branch bunch came down in the back of my yard and missed the fence and the office/shed by a few feet,” she says via email to the VIN News Service. “I never lost power and actually lost more sleep waking up constantly to listen for any sounds that might indicate problems with the siding or roof and to check if our power was still on.

“By yesterday afternoon it was gorgeous,” she adds.

Dr. Janice Baker, a consultant in Mclean, Va., took time to picnic at the beach today. She never lost power but spent Saturday afternoon seeking shelter from hurricane-spawned tornadoes. She passed time with her two cats in the first-floor hallway of her apartment complex.

The resulting damage to area homes and businesses was minimal, she says.

“Right now I’m watching people out at the beach surfing and having a great time,” Baker says. “It looks like everything is back to normal here."

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