Horse Owners Urged to Prepare for Hurricane Irene

As the first storm of the 2011 hurricane season heads toward the U.S. Atlantic Coast, emergency response personnel are urging horse owners in hurricane-prone regions to prepare for the storm.

Hurricane Irene began pummeling the Bahamas with high winds and heavy rains earlier this week. Packing the potential for 115 mph winds, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Weather Service has classified the storm as a Category 3 hurricane. The storm is expected to skirt the east coast of central and north Florida, the agency said. But on Thursday, NOAA issued a Hurricane Watch for portions of North Carolina and locations near the North Carolina/Virginia border. The storm is expected to make landfall near Cape Hatteras, N.C., on Saturday afternoon, said Chris Mackey, spokesman for North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue.

In response to the storm, Perdue ordered the evacuation of to Ocracoke Island, Makey said.

On Thursday Cheryl Bennett of the North Carolina Horse Council said the organization had received no calls for information about animal evacuations in advance of the storm.

However, Rebecca Gimenez, PhD, president and Georgia-based primary instructor for Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue Inc. (TLAER), said it's critical not to wait for an evacuation order to prepare for a major storm or other disaster event.

Gimenez advises owners take these steps in advance of an event that requires animal evacuations:

  • Fill vehicle gas tanks and hitch horse trailers to towing vehicles well before the storm arrives. "It's important to hitch the trailer so it's ready in case the storm turns toward you unexpectedly," Gimenez said.
  • Assemble and place copies of all the animals' heath certificates, vaccination records, proof of negative Coggins tests, and insurance documents into a waterproof bag and place in the towing vehicle.
  • Practice loading horses onto the trailers well before the storm threatens. "Don't wait until you have to get the horse in the trailer," Gimenez said.
  • Make shelter arrangements in advance. "Plan your evacuation including where you plan to take the horses, the dogs, and the kids," Gimenez said. "Then call ahead. Don't assume there is space to accommodate you."
  • Monitor the storm's progress, either via radio or on the Internet via weather tracking sites Stormpulse or the National Weather Service. "Buy a weather radio--preferably with backup battery power ...and use it," Gimenez said. "The weather sites are great while your computer is working."
  • Evacuate early. "If you're going to leave, leave before the evacuation is called," Gimenez said.

Owners who are unable to evacuate their horses in a significant storm should make arrangements to shelter them some place long before the storm arrives, said Jim Hamilton, DVM, team commander of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Veterinary Response Team for the Southeast Region.

Hamilton, a partner at Southern Pines Equine Hospital in Southern Pines, N.C., recommends that owners prepare for major incoming storm events by:

  • Clearing pasture and paddock areas of debris and other potentially dangerous objects. "Get the chainsaw and cut down tree limbs that might break off in a storm, and remove any objects in the paddock or pasture area that might become a projectile and impale a horse," Hamilton said.
  • Gather in at least three days worth of food and other supplies, and plan for storm-related interruptions in electric service. "If electricity goes out, (water well) pumps won't work," Hamilton said. "Get 55-gallon drums and start thinking about a water collection strategy."
  • Place animals pastures or paddocks well away from barns or other structures that could be demolished by heavy rains and high winds. "The best place for them is in the pasture or paddock, no matter how sturdy your barn is," he said.

Both Hamilton and Gimenez agree that horse owners should begin preparing for a storm event between 24 and 48 hours before the storm is expected to begin. That means heeding storm warnings as soon as they are issued.

"The most important thing of all is to take storm warnings seriously," Gimenez said.

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Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.

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