Wilma brushes Florida; 'could have been worse'


Orlando, Fla. — While the eighth storm to hit Florida in the past 14 months spared businesses and residents massive structural damage, practitioners say the lack of electricity put a significant dent in their wallets.

ORLANDO, FLA. — While the eighth storm to hit Florida in the past 14 months spared businesses and residents massive structural damage, practitioners say the lack of electricity put a significant dent in their wallets.

Wilma huffed into Florida as a Category 3 hurricane but didn't pack the puff of its two predecessors. Outside Belle Glade, Fla., electric crews work to restore power.

Practitioners label Wilma as a moderate offense compared to its predecessors. The Florida Veterinary Medical Association (FVMA) reports up to 600 veterinary practices located in the hurricane-affected area.

"Right now reports are noting extensive wind damage and no running water or electricity," says Don Schaefer, executive director, FVMA. "This storm leveled older structures, but much of the damage to practices included downed trees and signs."

Wilma made landfall as a Category 3 hurricane, then fluxuated between a level 2 and 3 during its brush with Florida before heading out into the Atlantic.

The State Animal Response Teams (SART) are functioning and have established a large animal care center in all affected areas, allowing practices that cannot take in patients to refer clients elsewhere.

Ending on a high note?

"We were very, very fortunate," says Dr. Dena Baker, a Naples mobile practitioner. "I lost about five days of work, and evacuating my two mobile clinics cost about $1,000; but it could have been a lot worse."

Schaefer says it will take two to three weeks before veterinarians in the storm's path can expect to be back online.

"I think practices will quickly return to normal after the electricity is restored," Schaefer says. "This storm moved quickly across the state and isn't really comparable to the type of damage Florida practices sustained last year."

The Biscayne Animal Hospital in Miami continued to help as many clients as possible, but without electricity, the two-veterinarian practice is limited to what procedures can be performed.

"This hurricane has been absolutely destructive to the practice," says practice owner Dr. Spencer Goldstein, Biscayne Animal Hospital. "We are losing between $3,000 and $5,000 a day. We have no clients, no phones. We have sick animals here, and getting the electricity restored should be a top priority."

Animal healthcare is a priority to many pet owners, Schaefer says, but he fears income spent on repairing damage by the hurricane will be the money taken out of veterinarians' pockets.

"It will take several months for practices to rebound financially as far as clientele is concerned," Schaefer says. "Also in times like this, office staff tends to find other jobs that are able to pay immediately."

Goldstein says the staff at his practice is a skeleton crew because he cannot afford to have a full staff working when there isn't much income.

"We shortened the staff and cannot perform surgery without electricity. We refer all procedures to other practices," Goldstein says.

Dr. Larry Coen, a Naples practice owner, says he lost 10 days of work due to Wilma.

"I lost telephone and electric but no major building damage," Coen says. "Hopefully I didn't lose clients. I tried to keep personnel by giving full paychecks or at least three-fourths of pay, but it is difficult when there's no income. You have to evaluate these things on a severity basis. I'm frustrated; we won't have landlines until mid November, but we didn't lose animals."

Florida veterinarians say unseasonably cold weather helped practices that had no electricity. Many animals succumbed to heat stroke and dehydration after Hurricane Katrina rendered practices and homes vulnerable to climbing temperatures. Fortunately, heat wasn't an issue in Florida, Baker says.

"I can tell you several ways to keep animals clean without being able to see," Coen says. "After all is said and done, I have to be happy it wasn't worse."

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