IFAW Responds to Italy's Earthquake

Post submitted by IFAW's Sasha Ramirez-Hughes

Italy 9:30am, Friday 17th April

We’ve just arrived at the earthquake rescue command centre located just outside l’Aquila. I’m travelling with a local veterinarian, Andrea Capobianco, who is part of the local animal incident response team who, with IFAW’s support are rescuing, treating, and reuniting the thousands of animal victims of the earthquake.

All roads to l’Aquila are closed, so we took a bus to a suburb about 20 miles outside of town and hitched a lift the rest of the way with somebody travelling to the disaster site. While we were waiting for our lift, I looked for signs of the earthquake but it seemed at first glance that life was going on as normal – people were out shopping and going to work. Only after a few minutes did I realise that here and there plaster had fallen off the buildings and that nearly all of the vehicles on the road to and from l’Aquila’s centre were emergency services – red fire trucks, orange mountain rescue vehicles, ambulances, army vehicles, and others. As we got closer to the command centre we saw more and more collapsed buildings. Nearly everyone that we spoke to described the centre of l’Aquila as like a warzone.

The animal emergency brought by the earthquake is severe and has three fronts: One is that some animals are still trapped in the rubble. Rescuers who haven’t yet been able to free them have been feeding them through cracks or via pipes but many are injured, frightened, and need urgent medical attention.

Another is that more than thirty thousand people and thousands of their beloved animal companions are living in more than 70 tent camps on the hills outside l’Aquila. Some of these animals were in poor shape even before the earthquake and weren’t vaccinated properly. This presents a real health risk to other animals and people as the close proximity means that diseases can spread easily. Vets and volunteers are scrambling to treat and vaccinate any animals that they find.

The final is that thousands of displaced pets have been housed temporarily in shelters around l’Aquila. However, these filled quickly and many animals were relocated to centres many miles away, far away from their owners and with no identification. At a cat sanctuary in Rome, we met two friendly cats nicknamed “Seismic” and “Tremor” by the staff that were brought in from l’Aquila and are being well cared for. Sadly, the there is little prospect of reuniting them with their owners, as they have no identification. The animal response team is working to document and microchip any displaced animals that they come across in order to create a searchable database to reunite pets with owners.

This afternoon, we’ll be heading into the refugee camps to assist with the assessment of the animal population there.

More to come tomorrow.

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