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Responding to the Destruction of Katrina: Emails from the front

FOR RELEASE: Sept. 13, 2005 from Dr.Michele Steffey D.A.C.V.S.

Things in Baton Rouge are very stable and we feel very safe. Everyone describes the city's population as having doubled overnight, and we're certainly experiencing traffic, etc, but you'd never guess at the magnitude of the disaster down the road. In the areas we've been, we haven't personally observed significant storm damage. Flying in was interesting ... the plane was packed, and everyone was with some relief agency or another. The rows and rows of Blackhawk helicopters to one side of the runway were sobering. We stood in line for the rental car for forever and, again, everyone was associated with some agency ... Red Cross, Army Corps of Engineers, FEMA, etc, etc.

The relief efforts from the animal angle are crazy. Not from the magnitude of the medical problems, although that's definitely out there, but that the logistical issues are not yet worked out. This is worsened by the fact that there are any number of "renegade" relief groups that take it upon themselves to head into the ravaged areas, scoop up any animal they see (many of whom were unhandleable strays to begin with) and then dump them on the doorstep of a shelter and leave. The shelter 20 miles down the road (where the VMAT folks seem to be headed) got most of those animals in the last few days and has closed it's doors to any more intakes, aided, rumor has it, by the military. However, that has been where most of the primary triage is happening from what I can pick up. Here in Baton Rouge there are two main sites that see animals - the Parker coliseum shelter and the vet school. The unhandleable dogs are a big problem for everyone - there are quite a few aggressive pit bulls and rottweilers that have obviously been trained as fighting dogs. At the moment the coliseum is housing mostly owned animals which have been surrendered temporarily by their owners, and who are likely to be residents for the long haul while the human situation is sorted out. There is a decent population of animals who are likely to be owned, but who have not been identified/claimed, and they're working to foster those guys out. There aren't a lot of new intakes there at the moment and not much sickness. It's mostly a matter of getting things organized and protocols set up for dealing with a shelter environment in the long haul.

The veterinary teaching hospital at LSU is dealing with the sick, and they have a whole ward devoted to disaster patients with spillover into the kitchen and storage areas ... they're seeing things out of New Orleans like chemical burns and renal failure likely associated with water-borne toxins. Dr. Geiger (due to her prior LSU connection) and our students have been absorbed into the system there with gratitude.

The military presence here is a little surreal - all very helpful, nice people, but it's very weird to see the enormous automatic weapons dangling from their shoulders. The owners of the pets are enormously grateful.

We are, at the moment, staying on air beds in racquetball court 2 at the Rec Center, but arrived "home" this evening to a notice on the glass door of the racquetball court that as of tomorrow, the Rec Center will no longer be housing relief workers. Hopefully the LSU folks will have figured out someplace to stash us by the AM. :)

Ursula and I were interviewed and photographed by some news group today but neither of us caught who they were.

I'll let you know how things go.

Michele