Dozens of animals die in Johnson City pet store flood

The Petco in Johnson City last Thursday / photo: Wayne Mahar

The mayor of Johnson City wants a criminal investigation into what happened at the Petco store last week. Company officials say nearly 100 rodents, reptiles, birds and other creatures died when floodwaters from Tropical Storm Lee swamped the business near Binghamton.

CNY Central reporter Jim Kenyon talked with village mayor Dennis Hannon. He claims that police were misled into thinking the animals had been evacuated prior to the flood.

"Police told me that management at the time informed them they had in fact moved the pets, taken them to Syracuse, so what management is telling us and what appears to be the true facts are not one in the same."

The mayor went on to say, "We have unconfirmed reports that there were employees that wanted to remove those animals and they were not allowed to do so." Hannon says the doors were locked by management and the store was vacated prior to the flooding occuring. "If the animals were not cared for that's a crime under New York State law and somebody needs to be held accountable," said Hannon.

Hannon also dismisses the idea that management did not have enough time to evacuate the building. Hannon says,"The flood warnings were issued as early as 8:30 on September 7th a state of emergency was declared by 6:00 p.m. It was all over the media, I do think they are responsible."

On Sunday, Petco CEO Jim Myers wrote on the company's blog, "We feel terrible that we did not do more to avoid this tragedy, are truly saddened by what has occurred, and accept full responsibility." Myers went on to say, "We apologize to the members of the Johnson City community and look forward to serving you better in the future."

Mayor Hannon says he is pleased to hear Petco is taking full responsibility but still wants a full criminal investigation.

"I along with a number of other people are just outraged that the animals were apparently left to perish in this pet store" he said.

The Associated Press reports that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) wants Broome County District Attorney Gerald Mollen to prove whether the store's decision not to evacuate the animals violates New York's laws against cruelty.

Elsewhere on his blog, Myers, said managers weren't familiar with the flooding in that region and misjudged the risk. The area was evacuated.

Myers says employees checked before midnight Wednesday and the store was safe. On thursday, the store was flooded and they were not allowed to re-enter. They finally got in Friday morning but the animals were dead. Many others were saved.

Mollen did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Here is earlier information from the Associated Press:

The Binghamton Press and Sun-Bulletin reports that the dead animals were discovered on Friday by store employees, who transported about 100 surviving animals to nearby stores.

Marcie Whichard, a Petco executive, wrote in a blog on the company's website that Petco is "heartbroken over this tragedy." She blamed a "communications lapse from the city to the store in evacuation orders."

Johnson City Mayor Dennis Hannon said the business should have known about the possibility of flooding since it's in a plaza that floods when the Susquehanna River hits flood stage, and wide-scale evacuation orders were issued.

In other flood news, some schools and businesses are reopening in the area, but a massive cleanup and recovery awaits thousands of residents who had to evacuate their homes last week.

The newspaper reports that parts of the village of Owego remain under water and most homes and businesses are still without electricity. Residents are being allowed to return to their properties during daylight hours to begin cleaning up.

Johnson City officials say most of the evacuees had been allowed to return to the village Sunday.

In Binghamton, the county and state office complexes are reopening Monday, while classes are resuming at Binghamton University.

Route 17 in the Binghamton area reopened Sunday afternoon after being closed when the Susquehanna River overflowed its banks last Thursday.