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October 31, 2013

Sandy’s Wake Still Felt One Year Later

A year has passed so quickly, it seems, since I traveled up to the devastated New Jersey coast to conduct search-and-rescue with many of my colleagues, looking for pets left behind or roaming, as residents fled the impact zone of Hurricane Sandy. Upon entering the affected region, I saw many houses with nothing but their foundations and a few beams or support structures still intact. Other homes had been lifted from the ground entirely and randomly dumped in other parts of the neighborhood, or lost somewhere in the Atlantic. 

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Lisa J. Godfrey/The HSUS
HSUS responder Chris Schindler removes cats from a
badly flooded apartment after Hurricane Sandy.

So many people and animals suffered as the sea surged and crashed into developed communities. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Hurricane Sandy was the largest Atlantic system on record and killed 159 people in the United States. With estimates of more than $68 billion in damage, the storm left hundreds of families homeless, and many of them are still struggling to regain their balance even 12 months later.

The HSUS deployed more than 140 staff and volunteers, rescued and sheltered hundreds of stranded and displaced animals, and reunited more than 400 of those with their families. We assisted in managing a co-located human/animal emergency shelter and established two emergency animal shelters in New Jersey as well. The HSUS also provided essential aid to Nassau County, N.Y., helping create and maintain an emergency shelter in Garden City, and staffed an emergency hotline 24 hours a day, fielding 1,741 calls in total. We partnered with local and national groups to supply much-needed pet food and supplies to four donation distribution centers. We also set up a foster network in collaboration with St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center, where more than 1,000 volunteers offered to temporarily house the pets of people displaced by the storm.

As with every disaster, there were immense hurdles, and immense pain and loss. But the animal welfare movement dramatically improved the quality of its response, especially when compared to the Katrina disaster seven years prior. The leaders of the affected cities and states recognized that the lives of people and animals were bound together. There could be no successful response without accounting for the power of the human-animal bond.

After leaving Louisiana in 2005, I felt that those who were on the front lines of disaster management operations would be forever changed by the lessons learned in the Gulf Coast. No longer would animals be an afterthought or a trivial concern. I saw that in evidence in New Jersey, as politicians, first responders, human-relief agencies, and other authorities spoke about the needs of animals and how deeply loved and valued they are by people in every community.

At The HSUS, we prepare for disaster response every day, and that’s one of the reasons I hope that you’ll support the work of our Animal Rescue Team who plan for the worst and then rush in as people rush out of disaster areas.

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