Harvey came with hurricane-force winds and an extraordinary load of precipitation, drinking up trillions of gallons of water from the Gulf and pouring them on Texas day after day, then going back for more. Now Irma has gained unprecedented strength from the unusually warm waters of the Atlantic and is churning and flattening small islands in the Caribbean as it moves west. It tracked just north of Puerto Rico, sparing the island its worst ferocity, but it’s now heading for a direct hit to the U.S. mainland.
It’s hurricane season, and we are in full battle mode at The HSUS, facing serial hurricanes of historic strength and lifespan. After Katrina in 2005, The HSUS amped up its disaster response capability, and while it’s been tested by Superstorm Sandy and other storms in the years since, it’s never been tested like this. Never. And we hope never again.
We are still down in Texas, and that response is earnest and continuing. We still have teams doing search and rescue, and we are working on continuing transports of homeless animals out of the state to our Emergency Placement Partners throughout the nation. We’ll be caring for animals for a while, and doing our best to ensure they are safe so that they may be reunited with their original caregivers. We’ll be part of the rebuilding of communities as everyone tries to put the pieces back together.
We also conducted an aerial survey some days ago over vast stretches of the impact area, and identified thousands of stranded cattle in east Texas. We’ve plotted their locations and worked with partners, including GreaterGood/Rescue Bank and Equine Rescue of Aiken, on hay drops to the animals, so they can survive until the waters recede and their caregivers can reach them by land.
In short, we are far from done, and we’ll be active from Houston to Rockport, looking out for all animals during the process.
But we are also now focused with urgency on Hurricane Irma.
The storm moved past Puerto Rico last night, and while the rains and wind were hard and tough, it could have been worse, given the mindboggling intensity of this hurricane. Since 2015, the HSUS Humane State program has been working in partnership with the government of Puerto Rico to provide services and support designed to elevate standards of care for animals across the Commonwealth, joining Humane Society International’s spay-and-neuter programs. Our Humane Puerto Rico efforts touch all species and aspects of animal welfare, training law enforcement to better investigate and prosecute animal cruelty, improving animal sheltering practices, increasing sterilization capacity, organizing large-scale transports of adoptable animals to relieve shelter overcrowding, and supporting fertility control of the free-roaming horse population on the nearby island of Vieques.
Those ties have knitted us emotionally and programmatically to the island and its people and animals. We have been in close contact with Puerto Rican government officials and animal welfare personnel on the island since the threat of Hurricane Irma first appeared, and have been monitoring the situation closely. We will continue to assess needs as damage reports come in, and will provide support and assistance as warranted.
South Florida is home to the nation’s largest wildlife rehabilitation center – the South Florida Wildlife Center, an affiliate of The HSUS. Our staff are removing all of the animals from the Fort Lauderdale facility, which could easily be swallowed up in the path of the hurricane. We are also setting up agreements with counties throughout the state and issuing preparedness warnings. After the storm hits, wherever it hits, we’ll be ready with assets on the ground. We are working now on transports of animals from Florida, just as we did in Texas in advance of the storm.
The American public’s generosity to us and other animal protection groups, to allow us to conduct these actions, has been extraordinary. Though it’s tempting to think so much of this is behind us, it’s not true. It’s still early in the process, and we’ll need your continued focus and attentiveness. Two of the three most populous states in the nation are being hit, along with Puerto Rico. Depending on the trajectory of the storm and its ability to retain significant strength, we may see the map expand even further.
We’ll do our best to be ready, but we’ll need you. Our thoughts are with all the people and animals in harm’s way.
P.S. Please donate to our Disaster Relief Fund to support our lifesaving work for these and other disasters.
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