Update from Italy: April 18/09

Posted by IFAW's Sasha Rameriez-Huges from the rescue efforts in Italy

With over 40,000 humans and around 14,000 animals affected by the earthquake in l’Aquila, there’s a lot of work to be done. To make the most of our time here, we’re working from about 6am until long after dark.

Our first job today was at a large kennel located on the outskirts of l’Aquila, which is serving as the main receiving point for the thousands of dogs and cats rescued from the ruins. Even now, days after the initial earthquake, rescue trucks continue to bring in animals, and the IFAW team is working to assess their health and reunite them with their owners. Throughout the day, a steady stream of anxious-looking people arrive at the centre, hoping to glimpse their beloved companion in one of the runs.

Sasha2 For some animals like Lilly , whose paw was crushed in the earthquake and was trapped for days until rescuers found her, this story has a happy ending. Based on her microchip information we were able to find a family that matched located in one of the 100 refugee camps. When the finally came to pick her up we witnessed a reunion that none of us will ever forget. Others, however, who weren’t microchipped or tagged will sadly remain at the shelter until adoptive parents can be found.

Later, we travelled into the epicentre of the city to search for and rescue any animals still living in the ruins. As you drive towards the epicentre, the damage to buildings is increasingly severe: cracked facades become collapsed roofs and gaping holes. Finally, a gigantic yellow cordon a few miles in diameter marks the heart of the disaster. At every road leading outwards, throngs of fire, ambulance, military, and police vehicles are stationed. Now and again an ambulance comes out of the centre at full tilt, sirens blazing, likely carrying an injured rescue worker.

Animal rescue teams work closely with fire and rescue teams, and are for safety reasons accompanied by officials at all times during rescue operations. The fire brigades are extremely co-operative and assist us with their rescue vehicles to reach animals that are trapped in difficult to reach places. Many of these animals are frightened and disoriented and must be lured by food into humane traps. The traps are very successful, however, and after leaving a bit of food inside the cage for few minutes in a location where we previously saw an animal, we stand a good chance of returning to find the animal snug in its enclosure.

I can’t understate the extent of the damage: every building in this ancient city is damaged, many lie in gigantic piles of rubble, and nearly all the cars that we see are smashed almost beyond recognition. Where the streets haven’t been bulldozed by emergency vehicles, piles of brick & rubble totally obscure them.

It's a heartbreaking scene but one that also makes me realise how important IFAW's contribution is: bringing a family's animal companion back to it safe and sound is often the only spark of joy in an otherwise dire situation.

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