Battered, not beaten: Veterinarians brace for new storm in Sandy’s wake

Ravaged areas of East Coast evacuated ahead of nor'easter

November 7, 2012 (published)
By Jennifer Fiala; Phyllis DeGioia

Photo by Lisa J. Godfrey/HSUS
The Humane Society of the United States is among several groups that have rescued and sheltered animals in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The organization is operating at least three shelters in New Jersey and New York for displaced pets.
Combing through the remains of his waterlogged veterinary practice, Dr. Allan Simon noticed his stash of Frontline was gone. Looters also hit the heart medications and other drug supplies.

“It’s just another thing,” he said, disheartened.

Simon headed out of Rockaway Beach, N.Y., Wednesday afternoon, heeding a mandatory evacuation ordered by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. A nor’easter is expected to bring high winds and an inch of rain and sleet to coastal regions already hit hard by Sandy. Forecasters expect the storm to make landfall this evening, bringing with it a storm surge projected to reach 4.5 feet.

Situated on a peninsula that juts out from Queens, Simon’s practice faces Jamaica Bay with the Atlantic Ocean behind it.

He and business partner Dr. Jay Rogoff are still reeling from devastation caused when those two bodies of water met Oct. 29 as Sandy, a post-tropical cyclone, struck. Animal Hospital of the Rockaways, the practice Simon opened in 1977 with his Cornell University buddy, sits amid a wasteland where entire blocks were destroyed by water and fire.

“It looks like the disaster movie, ‘The Day After’,” Simon said. “There’s military all around, big Humvees and the Red Cross. It’s unimaginable. They’re starting to clear out because there are no people here. I feel lucky because I have a car and a place to sleep.”

Simon recalls facing the winds of Sandy to shuttle pets inside the practice to safety. “One of our technicians risked her life to get some of these pets out, with water coming up and the National Guard telling us to get out,” he said. “We had to plead with some of them to get the animals before it was too late. The 10 to 15 animals in our practice were saved, including a ferret and two tortoises.”

The super storm claimed the lives of at least 48 people in New York and another 62 deaths were recorded in neighboring states. Thousands of New York and New Jersey residents still are without power and basic services in their homes. Rogoff is among them. He’s staying at a Sheraton Hotel. His home, a couple of miles away from the practice, incurred hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage. His three cars are totaled.

Rogoff says he barely came out alive during the storm.

“I was home and downstairs when the water was coming up. I saw it coming out of the sockets, so I went to the basement to shut off the circuit breakers,” he said. “Almost eight feet of water came rushing in. A couple of blocks away, they fished a guy out of his basement.”

The animal hospital is "really decimated,” Rogoff said. “There was at least five feet of water in the whole practice.”

The practice’s losses include a $55,000 digital X-ray machine, a $35,000 ultrasound machine and $6,500 in dental equipment. What’s more, the veterinarians’ client base likely is devastated.

Simon added: “Every single structure in the area has some damage. No businesses are opened. There’s no electric, no plumbing. There’s really nothing to salvage, and it’s extremely unlikely that we’ll get much coverage. We don’t have good flood insurance.”

The Long Island Veterinary Medical Association (LIVMA) estimates that at least 13 practices employing members were without power for some period during and after Sandy. Apart from Simon and Rogoff’s practices, however, the association has confirmed just one other practice to be severely damaged in the Long Island area.

All Creatures Veterinary Hospital in Long Beach, N.Y., reportedly was destroyed by floodwaters, but owner Dr. Lewis Gelfand could not be reached.

“Our office has been very busy calling practices,” said Dr. Elia Colon-Mallah, the association’s president. “There are probably some (with damage) we haven’t heard from because we weren’t able to reach them.”

LIVMA officials are compiling a list of resources including jobs and supplies for veterinarians and their staff members in need. The American Veterinary Medical Foundation is offering up to $2,000 in relief for practices impacted. Up to $5,000 is available to reimburse veterinarians for the supplies and care they offer animal disaster victims.

"We've started to see an increasing number of member requests for assistance," American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) officials said in a blog post. They did not say how many veterinarians sought help.

The New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association (NJVMA) also is offering assistance though the phones have been silent apart from practitioners calling to offer aid.

"Incredibly enough, we've gotten zero calls for assistance," Executive Director Rick Alampi said. "The only calls we've gotten are from potential volunteers. That could change considering 40 percent of the state is still without power and a storm is coming in." 

Dr. Brian Spar of Oceanside, N.Y., is worn out. His home and car are heavily damaged. His daughter's elementary school might never reopen. Without electricity and a permanent place to live, Spar's taken to Facebook to chronicle his family's experience.

"This is so surreal," Spar recently wrote. "I'm used to being the one who helps ... not the one who needs help. I'm having a hard time accepting it."

On Tuesday, he added: "
Wondering if the fact that there are still thousands of homeless, powerless, heat-less people on Long Island, NYC and NJ is going to be forgotten today thanks to the election."

If there's a silver lining, it's the fact that the clinic in Garden City, N.Y., where Spar works was not damaged.

The day Sandy hit, Spar and his wife, Angela, were in an emergency room seeking treatment for their 10-month-old daughter's croup. When the family left the hospital, they took refuge from the storm in the home of a co-worker.

Spar's house withstood Sandy's 90 mile-per-hour winds. The first floor, however, was flooded. Water had reached the ceiling, and most of the home's contents were ruined. The Spar family headed for a relative's house in Brooklyn.

"Still numb," read his Facebook post on Nov. 1. 

Spar has flood insurance, and he's met with a contractor to soon start repair work.

"I have no idea what it will take to get the house back in shape," Spar said in an interview. "It's not blown off the foundation. The floor is buckled. Everything depends on what I get from the insurance company. I don't have savings for this."

The Spars were approved to receive funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which might help pay for a couple of months of rent in temporary housing. Social media has connected Spar with offers of help from around the country. Strangers have dropped off toys, car seats and clothes for the kids.
Someone he hasn't talked to since high school offered to move ruined belongings to the curb on Saturday.

Spar isn't alone in receiving aid offers. Simon, the practitioner on Rockaway Peninsula, said a client delivered a U-Haul truck full of dog and cat food collected from donors in Upstate New York. It was distributed to the pets of area residents. Others in the community have offered Simon and those in his practice food and donations.

Unfortunately, all we can really ask for are monetary donations," he said. "It makes me feel funny asking for that type of donation. We want to get back up and going. We're doing house calls and working out of our cars, but it's very difficult. We can't get deliveries. We've lost all of our medications."

Simon stresses that as bad as his experience might be, others are in more desperate need.

"We're trying to get back to help the community as much as we can," he said. "We're thankful that we have the ability, hopefully, to rebuild. This community has supported us, and we're going to try to give back."

Spar shares that perspective.

"Multiple times a day we'd just break down, but now we can see the light. We lost a lot, but most of our clothes are intact. We are not near as bad off as a lot of people are," he said.

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