Amid the scenes of human loss from Hurricane Harvey, volunteers raced Thursday to save zoo animals in Victoria.

Thursday's effort followed a heroic week by four Texas Zoo workers who rode out Hurricane Harvey with the animals and then stayed as the Guadalupe River flooded the structure in Riverside Park.

Almost all of the animals survived, said zoo board president Jimmy Zaplac, who spent Thursday with rescue workers wading through floodwaters and ferrying crated animals to dry land.

"It would have been way worse if not for those four people - it would have been way worse," Zaplac.

The four who stayed were animal curator Michael Magaw; his wife, Teresa; and workers Cornelius "Cash" Clark and Jesse Salinas. By the night of Aug. 25, the four had to sleep on the roof to escape the rising waters, Zaplac said.

He told the four he could get them out Thursday before the river crested at 1 a.m. the next morning, but they told him, "No, we want to stay."

Zaplac said he talked to the four by phone multiple times a day after Harvey hit. They kept caring for and feeding the animals. Before the storm hit, they had moved all of the animals to their night houses, which are higher than the exhibits.

"The dedication these guys have had," Zaplac said, "I can't thank them enough. They've gone over and beyond to do what they had to do."

Crews from the San Antonio Zoo and SeaWorld San Antonio were surprised by the level of water when they arrived Thursday morning.

The first crew of more than 10 stood at the edge of the brown floodwaters on West Stayton Street, watching as water continued to stream through the park.

They scratched their heads.

"Basically, we're on hold until the road is passable," Chris Vanskike, vice president of operations and facilities at the San Antonio Zoo, said. "We had people come down earlier in the week to get an idea of what kind of help was needed, and it didn't look like this."

The relief crews, including employees of the Texas Zoo, then set up camp on West Red River Street on the edge of the flood.

By noon, Zaplac had arranged to get an airboat from his father and led the expedition through the floodwaters to start the rescue mission.

A crew of six from the Fort Worth Zoo also brought in a boat.

They brought with them tools to help clean the zoo, which looked devastated with smashed exhibits, downed trees and debris.

The sight of the submerged Texas Zoo brought back memories of the historic October 1998 flood, which was the only other time the zoo had to evacuate the animals. The zoo opened in 1957 at Foster Field and moved to its park location in 1962.

During Thursday's rescue, Texas Zoo veterinarian Dr. Thomas Culberson said the situation was worse than in the 1998 flood.

By 5:30 p.m., the rescue workers had moved out the smaller animals - birds, ocelots, a javelina and a goat named Oreo - and taken them to a city facility. The larger animals, which include two lions, a tiger, two bear cubs and two jaguars, will remain until floodwaters recede.

"We've got the majority of the animals," he said. "The big stuff is still there, and they're all fine."

A hawk and perhaps another smaller animal or two did die during the past week, Zaplac said.

The surviving animals will be relocated temporarily to other zoos until repairs can be made, Zaplac said. He said he was stunned to see the extent of the destruction and couldn't begin to say what it would cost to repair and rebuild. A GoFundMe account has been set up.

"The zoo is a wreck," he said. "It was waist-deep water everywhere."

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Education Reporter

Amber Aldaco is the education reporter at the Victoria Advocate. She's covered various events in the Crossroads including a zoo rescue, a biker funeral and a state meeting with the governor. She enjoys singing with her significant other.

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