The National Guard will use 15 military trucks to deliver water as part of its initial assistance in the fight against the bird flu outbreak, which has infected dozens of commercial turkey operations in Minnesota and at least one chicken operation.
The trucks, from the Willmar-based 682nd Engineer Battalion and the Brooklyn Park-based A Company, 134th Brigade Support Battalion, will provide the "large amounts of water … needed in foaming systems being used as part of euthanasia efforts" needed to contain the virus, according to a statement from the state Department of Public Safety (DPS).
This initial action by the Guard, activated as part of Gov. Mark Dayton's declaration of a state of emergency Thursday, begins Monday and will continue through Wednesday, the DPS added.
The DPS Homeland Security Emergency Management division activated the State Emergency Operations Center to coordinate the state's response to the bird flu.
Also Monday, Dayton will convene his Executive Council to address the flu's impact on the state's poultry industry. Minnesota is the nation's leading turkey producer. The one chicken farm so far known to be infected is an egg producer. Minnesota ranks eighth in the U.S. in that category.
The Executive Council will consider extending the state of emergency for up to 30 days.
On Saturday, Dayton along with U.S. Sen. Al Franken and U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson met with emergency responders and turkey producers in Willmar — home to Jennie-O Turkey Store, the country's No. 2 turkey processor. Kandiyohi County is Minnesota's top turkey producing county.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar will meet with turkey growers Monday morning in Litchfield, Minn., to discuss the response to the spread of avian flu, which so far has affected 2.5 million turkeys at 44 farms in 15 Minnesota counties. Klobuchar recently spoke with U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack to request that resources be made available to combat the disease and support turkey growers.
Minnesota zoos are taking precautions, too. The Minnesota Zoo in Apple Valley, and the Como Zoo and the University of Minnesota Raptor Center in St. Paul are watching the spread of the illness carefully, according the Minnesota Public Radio.
Como Zoo spokesman Matt Reinartz said the same migrating waterfowl suspected of spreading the disease in turkey farms also stop at the zoo in St. Paul.
"The Chilean and Caribbean flamingos that we have here, they're less susceptible to [avian flu]," Reinartz said. "But our plans are to wait for the heaviest migration to pass before we fill the bird exhibit with water and bring the flamingos out."
At the Minnesota Zoo, the bird show is one of the main attractions.
"We're very concerned because these birds are trained," said Kevin Willis, vice president for biological programs at the Minnesota Zoo. "They're not easily replaced."
The show is enclosed with netting, but goose or duck droppings can still get in. So bird handlers are taking extra precautions to make sure the birds' food doesn't touch the ground.
Wild birds routinely are in the zoo. Willis said zoo personnel are trying to be extra careful to limit the possibility of contamination, but he said it isn't practical to seal off the zoo's birds.