Local News

Hurricane Floyd Makes Heroes of Humble Folk

Posted November 1, 1999

— When Hurricane Floyd threatened our state, most thought the danger would be over when the storm passed. But for many, the real danger came the morning after when the sun was shining and temperatures were mild. Some Rocky Mount veterinarians knew lives were hanging in the balance.

Dr. Ann McGowan has photos, video and memories from September 16. The day began with McGowan and her husband Dr. Bobby Hicks worrying about their friend, Dr. Bobby Sherwood.

"He's 70 years old, he has diabetes. So I phoned him around lunch hour, I think, around lunch hour, and I said, 'Well, how are you?' and he said, 'Well, I'm fine. But the animals at Church Street Vet are dying. They're drowning.'"

Sherwood works at the North Church Street Veterinary Hospital, next to the Tar River.

"I knew that it must be flooded," Sherwood said, "but my wife and I tried for a couple of hours to get here Thursday morning." Flooding blocked most roads leading into town.

"And so my husband just looked at me and he said, 'Well, get your clothes on, we're going.' and I said, 'What do you mean?' and he said, 'I can't just sit by and see animals drown, I just can't.'" McGowan remembers.

Sherwood had the keys to the building. Hicks had a canoe. Together, they launched the boat four blocks from the clinic.

The current grew stronger as they paddled closer. "If we'd turned over, we'd have really been in a mess," Hicks said.

The team had to break through a window to get inside. Once they did, they saw how high the water was; it rose almost two inches in the 20 minutes they were there.

"There was only about an inch and a half of air left in these cages," Hicks said. "I got down with a flashlight and started looking back, and you could see a couple of noses bobbing."

By the time they arrived, five animals had already drowned. Nine others struggled for breath.

Hicks put the smaller dogs in the top cages, and the bigger dogs on top of the cages.

With the pets safe for the moment, Hicks and Sherwood left to find a bigger boat to carry out the animals. They returned to find the clinic's owners and others taking the survivors to high ground.

"If they hadn't let them out of the compartments when they did, then we would have lost a lot more animals," said owner and veterinarian Dr. Robert Cameron.

The pets' owners were grateful when they heard their cats and dogs were safe. "Honestly that was about the best news that we could have received because everything else was destroyed," said Sandy Temple.

Nevertheless, the experience was bittersweet for Ann McGowan. "I'm just sorry for the ones that died, because I knew some of those cats," she says. "I knew them quite well."

Sorrow mixed with joy. Fear mixed with courage. Friends, colleagues, heroes.

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