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Helping animals following Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico

Hurricane Season in a time of COVID-19

9.6.2020

The potential of a strong hurricane season in the midst of the 2020 pandemic

From the beginning of June until the end of November the official Hurricane Season is upon the Atlantic Basin, and forecasters are warning 2020 to be an above-average storm season ahead. According to the World Meteorological Organisation,

An above-normal 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is expected because of a number of climate factors and warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures,  according to forecasters with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, a division of the National Weather Service.”[1]

Specifically, forecasters predict a 60% chance of an above-normal season, with 13—19 named storms predicted, of which 10 could become hurricanes.[2]

The 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook

September and October normally seeing the brunt of the action, but this year we have already had named storms before the official start of the season.

Many questions now arise for communities and pet owners as to what they could do to prepare themselves. What happens to evacuation plans when stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines are still in place? How prepared is our already-overburdened health care system including the veterinary clinics? How do human emergency shelters respond to an influx of displaced people with pets and still respect social distancing guidelines to keep people safe? What do these new challenges mean for people and families with pets? We may find ourselves back in 2005 during the aftermath of hurricane Katrina where people refused to leave their homes or go to shelters that would not allow pets.

A FOUR PAWS team, made up of staff from both offices in Boston and Vienna, responded to the devastation left after Hurricane Florence hit Florida in September of 2018. Our response began in northern Florida where we collected donations filling a large truck with pet food and supplied. Then the team headed north and drove for about 15 hours to reach to heavily affected areas of coastal South Carolina. The team remembers distinctly just how many homes were abandoned and empty after tens of thousands fled for their lives. Water was up to the rafters in home after home. Often our response team would be approached by pet owners in tears after running out of animal food.

And this hurricane hit under 'normal' circumstances, without the complexities of a global pandemic. This is why FOUR PAWS is urging local and state governments to prepare accordingly: To allow those fleeing the path of hurricanes to evacuate safely with their pets and be welcomed in shelters.

Helping animals effected by disasters

“We can witness first hand in one of the most powerful countries in the world that our seemingly so advanced civilization can be put into ruins by nature within hours. What makes us humans significant as a species are not our technological or economical accomplishments but the fact that we are willing to reach out a helping hand to those in need when disaster strikes.”

Samantha Haider, member of FOUR PAWS Hurricane Florence response team

As for individuals who live in areas commonly affected by hurricanes, FOUR PAWS believes that preparation saves lives and planning for this upcoming season is key.

It is strongly advised to make a plan, be prepared and evacuate early. If you cannot leave, make a plan that includes what to do if you have to stay. This includes:

  • knowing local resources such as shelters and vet clinics
  • knowing contact information for loved ones and items that would identify you as the owners of your pets, such as recent photo of you with your pets and a recent vet bill, so you can be easily reunited with your family and pets.

To help you prepare, we have put together some resources. Here you can find a guide to preparing before, during and after a major disaster. It also includes some important information like having a family evacuation plan and preparing disaster kits. 

Please consider a plan for each member of your household and include your pets. This way, regardless of what this hurricane season brings, you and your family will be prepared!

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Jackson Zee

FOUR PAWS Director of the Disaster Relief Unit

Jackson has worked for many conservation and animal welfare organisations, and has over 20 years of experience in non-profit management, providing support and expertise to hands-on work with animals. He responded to disaster relief efforts in Iraq, Indonesia, Philippines, China, Japan, Thailand, India, the Caribbean, Australia, and the USA. 

 

Jackson is the Director of the Disaster Relief Unit, which assists communities with animals affected by disasters. He is currently affiliated with universities in the USA and China.

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