Meet Rob Warwick, who hopped in his 20-foot jon boat and joined the Hurricane Florence rescue effort, saving humans and animals alike from deadly rising waters.
As Hurricane Florence dragged through our region at a snail’s pace, she brought widespread destruction with sustained winds reaching 85 miles per hour and days and days of unrelenting rain. But even after Florence had come and gone, the waters continued to rise and unprecedented inland flooding displaced thousands of people along with their dogs, cats, horses, goats, chickens and even alpacas.
As the need arose for volunteers with boats, Warwick connected with the Turtle Mountain Animal Rescue, specifically a man named Keith Benning who had traveled from North Dakota to lend a hand in the wake of the storm. “I know the river,” Warwick said, “and Keith is an expert at rescuing animals. I could get him to the places where there was need so he could get to work doing what he does best.”
Warwick, Turtle Mountain Animal Rescue, and other volunteers, some of whom had traveled from as far as Texas, slogged through neighborhood after neighborhood finding homes completely under water, performing safety checks and collecting people and their pets from decks, rooftops, and the rushing water around them. According to Warwick, “it was surreal. Just a week ago we drove over the bridge to check on properties. Now I’m hitting the tops of cars and houses with a boat. The widespread destruction was staggering. Things weren’t as bad in Wilmington, but the outlying areas were devastated and suffering.”
One local farmer had taken in animals from many of his neighbors as they evacuated, staying behind to watch over four horses, a pony, 14 alpacas, 12 cows and some dogs and cats too. “When we got there,” said Warwick, “the one guy who stayed to watch over everyone’s animals was in bad shape. We tag teamed with him to save every one of those animals.”
The group, with Warwick at the helm, also rescued a herd of goats in an encounter that might have been comical under different circumstances. “We kept hearing this sound and couldn’t figure out what it was, and then we found these goats on a deck that was about to be under water. The owners had stayed but when the flooding got out of hand, they were airlifted out. We got their permission to remove the goats, but there was one big one who kept wanting to fight and doing things like trying to eat our shorts. We put the other goats in dog cages, but we just let the big one wander loose in the boat. If we hadn’t gotten to them that day, they wouldn’t have made it.” The goats are now safely installed at a neighbor’s farm, and they will watch over them until the owners return.
In the days following these rescues, Warwick and company traveled back to where they had delivered the animals, bringing fresh water, feed, hay, and a veterinarian who was able to administer antibiotics and IV fluids to the beleaguered creatures.
Warwick described the experience as eye-opening. “A lot of people had negative things to say about the people who stayed behind. But no one could have expected what happened here. Some people didn’t have the means to leave, others had water just in their ditches when they went to bed, and they woke up to flooded homes.” He went on to explain the immense compassion he witnessed, “these folks came from so far away just to help us. They were sleeping in their trucks and they were like ‘we’re happy to do it.’ That got me motivated to go help too."