Saving the Flock from Hurricane Matthew October 28, 2016
Natural disasters are among most flock owners’ worst fears. Actually, they’re among our worst fears, whether we have a flock or not. They are sneaky, they surprise us with their intensity and power, and no matter how hard we try to prepare, at some point anyone could be a victim of a natural disaster.
Recently Hurricane Matthew devastated many in the eastern United States and beyond. In fact, it hit home for some of our own My Pet Chicken customer service specialists, me included.
Matthew worked his way up the eastern coast wreaking havoc in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, finally hitting North Carolina before heading back out to sea.
Where I live in eastern North Carolina we expected about 5-inches of rain and a lot of wind, but by the time it reached us it was only a Category 1 hurricane. For my family, and many others in the state, we had no clue about the level of devastation that was coming. We prepared as usual, most of us having experience with strong winds and rain along with the usual flooding. On my property we’ve hit the highest recorded flood levels multiple times in the last few years, but we knew our animals were well outside the danger zone on high ground, so we battened down the hatches and prepared to enjoy some family time.
Saving the flock and the animals
On October 8th, 2016 Matthew hit us with pounding rain.
It was windy, but we have certainly seen worse. Power flickered some, but we were not particularly worried. Around 2pm I went outside to do another check on the animals. I had been out only a couple hours earlier and other than rain our swamp was pretty dry, there was no standing water. I had my cell phone out (y’all know you would have too!) getting some video because now, just 2 hours later, the water was nearly as high as we have ever seen it and getting higher as I watched.
I walked toward the poultry yard and was soon running; our rabbit hutches had water in them!
I ran in and grabbed the bunnies, glancing at the chickens as I did so. They were wet from rain but that was the extent. The silly birds seemed to think their bugs are better wet, but the ground wasn’t flooded in that area. But by the time I had the rabbits in a dog crate 10 minutes later the chicken yard was flooded.
My young birds were trying hard to keep their heads up as they started floating. Thankfully they still like their brooder house which has wheels and they were gathering inside. I grabbed the handle and ran for higher ground, pulling against the water that was getting deeper by the moment, finally getting them out and locking them in at the highest spot with our bucks. The older birds were trying to get on roosting bars in their coop but the wind had knocked open doors and windows and they kept getting blown off into the water which was quickly filling the coop. I grabbed legs, wings, whatever came within reach, running them to higher ground in groups of 3 or 4. The water was shin deep and I was barefoot; once I fell over debris I couldn’t see in the churning water, dousing myself and chickens. They were shaking with cold and soaking wet but I got them all to higher ground. And still, the water continued to rise.
Breathless, I tried to catch my bearings when I heard the pigs bellowing in fear, and the goats crying. I realized our barns were about to flood!
I stood there stricken, not knowing what to do. There was no way to fit all the animals into our house. Hoping the chickens would be fine we started moving the goats and pigs from the slightly lower barns to our garage after quickly fashioning a makeshift pen. It was exhausting, carrying frighted animals one at a time, sometimes dragging them, screaming at them to move so others wouldn’t die. Neighbors saw our efforts and joined in.
At 8pm it was pitch black out, the rain was still driving hard and the last animals to move from the highest pens would be the chickens… but we could no longer get through to save them.
We had been working in the cold and wet for 6 hours. There was nothing more we could do.
Bruised, bleeding and exhausted we stood in the rain and flood water hoping it wouldn’t come up to our house. Roads were closed, we were stuck with no way out and praying the rain would stop. My heart was breaking, I had no hope left that my beautiful flock could survive the flooding in the barn. Even with the partitions being above flood level that they could fly up to, it was dark, they were cold and wet, and I had no hope they would figure out how to survive. We quietly went inside to wait.
The rain slowed, by 1 am the waters had receded quite a bit. I still couldn’t get into the barns safely. We went to bed with heavy hearts to wait for morning.
I woke and hesitantly walked to the barns. The world stank from the flooding and debris littered the ground. The water was still high and projections were that the flooding would get worse for those near rivers.
Tears ran down my face but I had to look, to see if there was life.
There, in that little pen at the top barn, all my little birds were running to greet me! Following them I saw my mature hens an a rooster; I could hardly believe my eyes! I ran in and counted… we didn’t lose a single life! Every bird was there; Captain Munch, Mr. Flowers, Mr. Fancy-pants, Sweetie… they were all there!
They found a high spot where hay piled up in the water, and huddled close for warmth all that scary night. I can’t describe the emotions that ran through me at that moment, and then later as the days passed.
It’s been hard, hard to have been lucky, hard to see the pain of others.
Slowly we are cleaning up. Heartache is everywhere with flooded homes, pets lost, family and friends swept away in the flood waters. We feel lucky to have not lost a life on our farm.
At the same time, we have a taste of the dread, the fear, the hurt that many are facing. There is a bit of survivors’ guilt for many of us, and yet an overwhelming relief that this storm is over and we can recover. Its been two weeks since Matthew left. Roads are finally opening up, people are getting back to work, kids are going to school, homes are being repaired. On our farm the nasty smell is fading and we have been blessed with many lovely days of sunshine and fall breezes. The chickens greet me each morning, clucking and cooing as I fill their feed and water. At the gate the wind chimes make sweet music and the world feels right again.
Nothing will make us forget the feeling of helplessness during that storm, but many of us can look around and know that after the storm the sun always comes out again.