Friday, August 25, 2006

3 Cats and A Hurricane

With Hurricane Season in full swing and the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina fast approaching, many memories of two seasons ago came flooding back.
The summer of 2004 brought great change and challenge. Many of us who reside in coastal areas had become complacent with the approach of hurricane season. But, for those of us in Florida and in many other coastal areas, 2004 ended all that. We have been very fortunate over the years here in Northern Florida, but we are not immune to the power of these beasts. The summer and fall of 2004 we battled one storm after another, never suffering any knock out punches but nevertheless still dealing with damage from wind and water.
Our area in Northern Florida was first visited by Bonnie. After Bonnie, Charley rolled through, but it passed by us but only one week later Frances came barreling in early on the morning of September 5th near Sewall Point, FL with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph. As the storm marched west northwest across the Peninsula it created a path of destruction. Personally it left us without power for 48 hours, but some in Jacksonville were without power for much longer. I will always remember Frances because it struck on my birthday. We were not prepared to deal with a major power outage. Foolishly we had only the bare minimum necessities for dealing with a major power outage. Part of that complacency we had been lulled into over the years. The mindset was “oh it’s only a hurricane, let’s have a party!” just not this time. I still recall the frequent emergency alerts from NOAA radio that forewarned us of imminent tornadoes. It is a terribly frightening scenario in the middle of the night with the winds howling and rains beating down and listening to trees snap off to then hear the NOAA alert sound and find out that there is a tornado touching down nearby. You run to your ‘safe room’ and pray. These alerts went off every 30 minutes for several hours. Frances spawned over 115 tornadoes as it tore a track throughout the entire southeast United States. I recall we had over 45 touch downs in our area. Boo, Ping, and Jinx had only been with us a few short weeks, and they were outdoor cats at the time. We set them up in a plastic tote outside our front entry fortifying it with a strong chair to keep it in place. Many times throughout the night I checked on them all nestled in their little bed curled up against one another not knowing or caring about the storm that swirled around them. To this day I say to myself; what were you thinking by leaving them outside. How stupid I was and how angry I am at myself for being so shortsighted with their safety. If anything were to have happened to those precious cats I would be never forgiven myself. Thankfully it did not; they were safe, dry and warm. After enduring that ordeal, one week later we were visited by Hurricane Jeanne. This time we didn’t allow the cats to be outside, they were safely tucked away in the garage. At least we were a bit more prepared the second time around; but once again we had to deal with no power for at least 48 hours.
I must say that 2004 taught us many valuable lessons about nature, never again will we be unprepared, and never will any of our cats be left outside in a plastic tote with a blanket inside. Thankfully they weren’t any worse for the wear and neither were we, and probably they were better prepared than we were. But, I don’t want to risk them EVER being outside in a storm again. Did you know that there are 50 million people who live in U.S. coastal counties from Maine to Texas that are all in the path of a future storm?
A recent study found 60 percent of people in hurricane-prone U.S. coastal areas have no hurricane plan -- which means up to a week's worth of food and water squirreled away, a kit with flashlights and other gear, and an established evacuation route to higher ground. Our kit also contains non essential items like paper products, plenty of batteries, plastic battery operated lanterns, (so they are safe for the cats), battery operated portable radio, another battery operated radio which operates with the S.A.M.E technology and also gives NOAA updates, two battery operated TV’s and two generators ,two cell phones, several blue tarps, building supplies and tools like a gas operated chain saw and of course extra gasoline. Last but certainly not least, a few weeks supply of cat food and extra litter. Hurricane Frances woke us up and Hurricane Katrina made us realize how much we would be on our own if a bad disaster struck. Our local government is informing the public that we will be on our own for an unspecific amount of time. After watching the struggles during Katrina, I can see that would be true. So for us it was time to prepare the best we could.
All of this also taught me a great lesson about what we would do with our animals if we had to evacuate. We are now totally prepared to evacuate with them or stay home and deal with the aftermath. A point many learned too late with Katrina. In many cases, the citizens of the Gulf Coast were not allowed to evacuate from the hurricane with their pets, and thousands were forced to choose between their own safety, and the safety of their beloved animals. Many endangered their own lives to take care of their pets, while thousands of pets were left behind to perish.According to a Zogby International poll done after Hurricane Katrina, 61 percent of pet owners would refuse to evacuate ahead of a disaster if they could not take their pets with them. As Hurricane Katrina unfolded, the whole country learned that nobody wants to be faced with the terrible choice of abandoning their pets or risking their own lives to stay with them. People everywhere see their pets as family members. And they treat them as such. Thankfully out of this tragedy a new understanding is at hand, Congress is one step closer to protecting the health and well-being of dogs and cats in future disasters.
On Aug. 4, just weeks before the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. Senate passed the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act, which requires local and state disaster plans to include provisions for household pets and service animals in the event of a major disaster or emergency. A similar bill was approved by the House in May, but the House must either adopt the Senate version — which is more comprehensive — or the two bills must be reconciled before going into effect.
In addition, nearly a dozen states have enacted legislation aimed at protecting people and pets during disasters.
One of those laws is Louisiana’s SB 607, which includes requirements that people and their service animals be sheltered together and that evacuees be permitted to bring pets in carriers on public transportation as long as doing so doesn’t endanger human life. Businesses housing animals must develop evacuation plans for those animals. An identification and tracking system will help ensure that people who are separated from their animals can be easily and swiftly reunited with them.
Like the PETS Act, many of the state bills have yet to be implemented or tested. Funding, or lack thereof, could be an issue, although the Senate version of the PETS Act authorizes financial help to states to create emergency shelters for people with animals as well as essential assistance for people with pets and service animals and the animals themselves following a disaster.
Rather than waiting for it to become a federal requirement, some states and localities have already reacted to the Hurricane Katrina tragedy by designing disaster plans that include animals. Maine, New Mexico, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, New Hampshire and Vermont have passed state legislation including animals in disaster planning, while California, Illinois, New Jersey, and New York are now considering similar bills.
Katrina made two things clear. One is that local, state and federal emergency planning efforts must include the needs of people with pets or service animals when planning for evacuations, shelters, rescue and recovery, and tracking.

The other point made clear by Katrina is that people must have a plan for evacuating with their pets. Leaving them behind should not be an option.
It is vitally important to have a plan in place that includes your whole family. It is not wise to rely on local authorities to rescue you and your pets. It is ideal to evacuate early, know where you are going and how to get your animals out with you, and have the resources already assembled to leave your home quickly so you don’t become a victim yourself.
I know this was a long narrative, but thank you for reading it. If one person can be helped by any of this information I will feel a sense of thankfulness. Please support the PETS ACT by contacting your representative in Congress and in the Senate.

Please stop by and visit the Friday Ark and don't forget this weekend Carnival of the Cats hosted this week by Catymology.

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