Japan Update: On the Ground With Supplies

2200.  Left the hotel at 0600 for what was supposed to be a 3 hour drive to Ishinomaki.  We have been very careful to stop at every major service area as you do not want to get into any of the smaller impacted areas without a full tank of gas.  At 7:30, we were in queue for fuel when our vehicle started rocking.  We were experiencing our 4th tremor in the last 36 hours – but this one was obviously bigger than the 4.1 that shook our dinner plates.  The epicenter of the 6.5 earthquake was located 70 miles east of Sendai or basically under our wheels.  Definitely woke us up.  A tsunami alert was posted for a possible 0.5m wave but was canceled at 9:05.

Our routing took us through Sendai City where we had our first view of the incredible devastation left behind by the tsunami.  Debris was absolutely everywhere and extended for miles.

We arrived into Ishinomaki at 10:00.  We were greeted by a 3 km line of cars waiting for fuel – filling your tank in this town is a ½ day operation.  With our credentials, we were able to climb to the top of a hill overlooking the city.  The view below was all too familiar as much of the video that we all watched on CNN was filmed from this spot.  We were able to walk through what was left of an upscale community and my best guess is that 1 in 20 homes were still attached to their foundation, the other 19 were in a tangled mess of wood, steel, and concrete.  There would have been little chance for any living thing to have survived this.  The only comparison I can make is SE Texas following Hurricane Ike where entire communities were erased from the map.

Ishinomaki is basically “ground zero” for the tsunami impact.  Nearly 10,000 people died here and countless were injured.  90,000 of the 160,000 residents are currently in one of the 70 shelters located throughout the city.

We met Dr. Toshinori Abe at his clinic at noon.  Dr. Abe is very active in the Nyagi VMA and is attempting to develop a database of the number of animals impacted and their sheltering needs.  According to Dr. Abe, many of the estimated 10,000 dogs and 15,000 cats perished in the tsunami.  As difficult as that is to accept, we did not see a single roaming dog; there is a very small number of animals in the human shelters; and the vets are not receiving a significant number of requests to assist abandoned animals.

There are 7 vet hospitals in Ishinomaki and 3 are operational –of the remaining four- two received significant damage and the other two were totally destroyed.  As I mentioned, there are 70 human shelters in the city and Dr. Abe estimates that there are maybe 350 total animals with their humans.  We were told that some people have opted to take their pets home and some have found temporary housing but if our arithmetic is correct, there is a significant numbers of animals unaccounted for and presumed dead.  Dr. Abe and the four surveyors hope to have a final count of animals in the shelters within one week and then decisions will be made regarding resource needs.  This is the first time that the shelters have allowed animals in with humans and according to Dr. Abe it is working well.

Dr. Abe was also able to provide us an update on livestock issues in the Myagi Prefecture.  For the Sendai area, approximately 2000 head of cattle survived and 700 were killed.  Most of the 2000 pigs in the area drowned.  In the northern region, 100 dairy cattle died and 150 head are very ill with mastitis and/or digestive issues.  Any animal close to the sea died and those further inland have been moved to safety.  The average size of a farm in this region is about 50 head.

There is not a large equine population but there are four “riding clubs” averaging in size of 40 head.  The losses were significant: one club suffered a 50% loss; another lost 38 of 40: and a third club lost all ten of its horses.  There is a horse racing/training facility located in the area but apparently, none of their animals were lost.

The biggest issues facing livestock in Myagi are food and water. The grass is ruined and there is very little hay in Japan.  We discussed a number of ways that IFAW might support the feeding effort and we will develop a couple of possible approaches over the next couple of days.

We decided to visit one of the farms close to Ishinomaki.  The tsunami had rushed right through the dairy barn and about 30 of the 50 head drowned.  The water was at knee depth for a week and a number of cows have since died of complications to the flood.  It was an absolutely horrible scene as there is no place to take the bodies so the dead and alive co-mingle.

We visited a human shelter before departing so that Kaz could drop off some donations.  Unfortunately, the earthquake-damaged roads took its toll on our van and about an hour out of Ishinomaki, we severed a shock absorber.  We hobbled the remaining way on back roads and finally got into Fukishima at about 9PM where we were met by Dr. Mizoguchi and his wife for dinner and  planning session.  Dr. Mizoguchi runs the Fukishima Wildlife Rehabilitation Center and is assisting with the human/animal shelter.  Tomorrow we will visit both sites, get the van fixed, and then race back to Tokyo for two very important meetings.

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