Veterinarians brace for Hurricane Matthew

Survivor of past flooding opens clinic to pets of evacuees

October 6, 2016 (published)
By Phyllis DeGioia

Photo courtesy of the National Hurricane Center
The National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration forecasts heavy winds, rain and storm surges today for the Bahamas, where Hurricane Matthew is passing through. The storm is expected to keep its category 4 classification as it approaches Florida tonight, unleashing 145 mph winds on the U.S. coastline.

A year after floodwater destroyed her practice in Columbia, South Carolina, Dr. Tracy Wales plans to help evacuees of Hurricane Matthew, a Category 4 storm that's threatening the U.S. eastern seaboard. 

Having lost their building, Wales and her business partner Dr. Nori Warren are the midst of opening a new facility. For now, they work out of rented space. Although the place is cramped, it's located in the center of the South Carolina, hundreds of miles from the coast. Wales is opening the doors to evacuees heading inland, offering to board their animals. Her staff has volunteered to help care for them.

"We are in a small place with limited kennels and space, and we're are not allowed to board, but we are kind of ignoring that right now," she said. "We are making plans to host animals. We don't have zoning for boarding, but it's an emergency."

Thousands of veterinary practices could be in peril as Hurricane Matthew barrels into U.S. waters.

The Category 4 hurricane, classified as "extremely dangerous" by the National Hurricane Center, is predicted to reach Florida's coast Thursday night. The Florida Veterinary Medical Association estimates that as many as 2,000 veterinary practices in the state could be impacted. As the storm heads north, officials in Georgia and South Carolina predict, as many as 250 veterinary practices could be affected by the storm. The North Carolina Veterinary Medical Association says 106 veterinary clinics operating along North Carolina's coast might bear the brunt of it.

The National Hurricane Center is tracking Hurricane Matthew, showing it moving through the Caribbean, north of Cuba. The storm is described by Florida media as a "monster" that extends 120 miles across, with tropical-storm-force winds covering about 320 miles. 

Mandatory evacuations reportedly have been ordered along the coast of Florida's Brevard and Palm Beach counties. Air traffic is at a halt and the National Guard has been called into the area.

Hurricane Matthew isn't the only storm in the Atlantic. Tropical Storm Nicole is nearing hurricane strength; however, the National Hurricane Center expects it to fizzle without reaching the United States.

Schools in Wales' area closed on Wednesday so the buildings can be used as shelters. School buses are heading to the coast to pick up evacuating residents.

"I almost hope my old building floods so that I know we made the right decision not to go back," Wales said. "We had tornado warnings a couple of months ago, and I was like, 'take the building,' but it didn't."

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