Far from Fukushima, helpers find themselves near the eye of the storm

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2011:

TOKYO, ST. LOUIS–Six thousand miles
from the earthquake, tsunami, and triple
nuclear meltdown that hit northeastern Japan on
March 11, 2011, and six weeks after the crisis
began, Kinship Circle executive director Brenda
Shoss and Best Friends Animal Society community
relations specialist Troy Lea remained on
post-disaster overload in late May, even though
they never left their home offices near St.
Louis, Missouri.
Shoss, of University City, used Skype
telephone calls, Facebook, and e-mail to
coordinate animal rescue efforts involving 10
Kinship Circle volunteers and about 30 volunteers
from other organizations in the vicinity of the
stricken Fukushima nuclear reactor complex.

Lea, of Maryland Heights, not actually
part of the Best Friends disaster relief team,
handled extra calls about routine animal problems
to help cover for personnel who were more
directly involved, either in the Fukushima
crisis or in response to flooding along the
Mississippi River and tributaries. Most of the
calls to which Lea responded would never make
headlines, yet involved a life-and-death crisis
for an individual animal.
Shoss and Lea, both veterans of
post-Hurricane Katrina disaster relief operations
in 2005, realized the need to do their work well
away from the excitement.
“I never get to do the exciting stuff,” Shoss joked.
But in late April a flurry of tornadoes
culminating in the “2011 Super Outbreak” briefly
put Shoss and Lea close to the eye of the storm.
“I was lucky, but my neighbors not so
lucky,” Lea told ANIMAL PEOPLE on April 24. “My
house and my mom’s house are still standing,”
Lea said, “but right down the street a tornado
took out a bunch of homes. Thankfully no one was
killed, but a lot of people are now going to
have to rebuild. It was so damn scary!
Tornadoes were touching down all over the place
right around us.”
The tornadoes ripping through St. Louis
were only the first of a five-day onslaught
during which 327 tornadoes hit 21 states,
killing 344 people. April 27, the peak day,
brought 292 tornadoes.
In Tuscaloosa, Alabama, scene of 41
human fatalities, “More than two weeks after
twisters shattered the South, teams from the
Humane Society of the U.S. are still rounding up
stray animals and pets in the most heavily
damaged areas,” reported Jay Reeves of
Associated Press on May 13. “More than 350
dogs, cats, birds, snakes, lizards and even a
tarantula already have been found in the
shattered neighborhoods around Tuscaloosa, and
the local animal shelter is so full it had to
erect tents for additional space,” Reeves wrote.
Countless other pets remained missing–many of
them still at large, eluding two trapping teams.
“Humane Society worker Connie Brooks of Key West,
Florida just returned to the U.S. after two
weeks of rounding up animals in the tsunami zone
in Japan,” Reeves noted. “Now she is answering
calls about all sorts of animals lost in the
Southern tornado outbreak.”
The impact of the twisters on farmed
animals was magnitudes larger, but rescuers had
few opportunities to help farmed animals. “The
Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries
reports that at least 514 poultry houses were
damaged by the storms,” summarized Florence
Times Daily staff writer Dennis Sherer. “At
least 206 poultry houses were destroyed and more
than 3.1 million chickens were killed, including
at least 1.4 million in Franklin County,
Alabama,” Sherer added. “In addition, 70
cattle were killed, including 30 in Franklin
County, officials said.”
The Tuscaloosa twister remained the most
damaging of the spring for less than four weeks.
A twister that hit Joplin, Missouri on May 22,
2011 killed at least 132 people and left 156
still missing and unaccounted for a week
afterward. The Joplin Humane Society posted
photos and descriptions of more than 400 dogs,
cats, and rabbits who were found amid the ruins
of more than 8,000 buildings.
Among the animal relief first responders,
American SPCA field investigations and response
team senior director Tim Rickey was a Joplin
native, and former Joplin animal control
officer. The ASPCA team “coordinated the
transport of nearly 150 animals from the Joplin
Humane Society to Wayside Waifs in Kansas City
and the Humane Society of Southwest Missouri in
Springfield to enable the Joplin shelter to
accept incoming animals displaced by the
disaster,” said ASPCA media contact Emily
The Humane Society of Missouri, which
had fielded 22 people for 10 days in response to
the Mississippi basin flooding, sent 15
personnel. Best Friends sent two.
“Bonnie Morrision, Kinship Circle’s
disaster management director, is there now to
determine what extra help is needed,” Shoss
e-mailed to ANIMAL PEOPLE. “We are forming
standby teams at this point. As you know, but
most of the public does not,” Shoss explained,
“in the U.S. a group has to be officially invited
to work at the scene of a disaster, so we can’t
go until an emergency management or appointed
nonprofit organization enlists our help. The
Humane Society of Missouri, the state-appointed
lead animal aid organization, has one of the
more sophisticated state rapid response teams,”
Shoss continued, “and they are there doing
search-and-rescue, while coordinating emergency
sheltering with Joplin Animal Control on the
campus of Missouri State Southern University.”

Still busy in Japan

Meanwhile, Kinship Circle and other
animal aid charities working in Japan still had
more than enough to do.
“The situation grows more desperate by
the day,” e-mailed Animals Asia Foundation
founder Jill Robinson. “Animals left alone in
the no-go area around the Fukushima nuclear power
plant are dying in droves. Farmers working
anxiously to make arrangements to move their
animals to a safe area are now hampered by
extensions of the no-go area, and strict
restrictions on access, with nobody but
authorized personnel permitted to enter. With
no food or water available, the animals are
slowly starving to death.
“On April 24,” Robinson continued, “the
Fukushima government decided to euthanize farm
animals who were severely ill, injured or in
distress within 20 kilometers of the power plant,
and planned to start disposing of [otherwise
healthy] animals by permission of their owners on
April 26. Without access to the area, volunteers
and owners cannot recover the thousands of
animals who are still healthy. Animals Asia is
supporting local rescue groups in their appeals
to Japanese authorities to allow willing
volunteers into the area to carry out rescue and
removal of these animals. Some 30,000 pigs,
630,000 chickens, 2,500 beef cattle, and 870
dairy cattle are still at risk and need help
Pledges of a forthcoming governmental
response to the Fukushima farm animals continued
for more than a month, while rescuers on the
scene reported seeing little visible action. On
May 12, e-mailed Animal Refuge Kansai founder
Elizabeth Oliver, paraphrasing official
circumlocutions used to avoid assigning
responsibility for making controversial decisions
to specific individuals, “The Japanese cabinet
officially announced that the director-general of
nuclear emergency response headquarters,” in
other words the prime minister, “ordered the
Fukushima governor to euthanize all of the farm
animals in the no-go zone and apologized to the
farmers in this area. The cabinet advised that
this act would be carried out partly to protect
the environment, and they ‘expect’ the Tokyo
Electric Power Company,” the operators of the
Fukushima reactor complex, to compensate the
farmers for their losses.”
On May 16, posted the California-based
Hachiko Coalition, “the Japanese Prime Minister
said to [Member of Parliament] Tsutomu Takamura,
‘If there is a way [to let the animals in the
radiation zone live], please work on it.'”
The Hachiko Coalition funded post-tsunami
relief work in memory of an Akita named Hachiko,
acquired in 1924 by University of Tokyo
agricultural professor HidesaburĂ¿ Ueno. For
about a year Hachiko greeted Ueno every day at
the Shibuya train station. Then Ueno died from a
cerebral hemorrhage. For the next nine years
Hachiko went daily to the Shibuya train station
to look for him. When Hachiko died on March 8,
1935, commuters funded a monument in his honor.
The name of the Hachiko Coalition meant to remind
Japanese officials to repay the loyalty of the
many animals who still await their people at
their homes within the evacuation zone
surrounding the Fukushima nuclear reactors.
On May 18, the International Fund for
Animal Welfare announced that “The government of
Japan has launched an operation to remove
abandoned animals from inside the evacuation
zone. Officials are allowing residents back into
the evacuated zone,” IFAW said, “and including
animal rescue as part of the campaign.”
Reportedly starting on May 10, eight days
before the IFAW announcement, the government
teams “removed at least 27 dogs and two cats from
the danger zone” in the first week,” said IFAW.
“According to reports,” IFAW continued,
“officials in Fukushima have also allowed
evacuees to bring pets out of the danger zone and
continue to live with them in temporary housing.”
But reports about evacuees keeping pets
in temporary housing had already been circulating
for more than two months.
“Two disaster phases are occurring
simultaneously,” assessed Shoss. “Most of the
post-earthquake and tsunami search and rescue is
over. We are in the appropriate phase of
emergency to establish long-term sheltering. So
the type of volunteer needed has shifted to
veterinarians, vet techs, and animal shelter
“For the radiation component,” Shoss
continued, “it is as if someone has hit the
rewind button on ‘crisis’ over and over. Each
time mandatory evacuation empties a district,
the area is sealed under nuclear emergency law.
Police blockades go up and trespassers risk
arrest, fines and/or jail time. The
20-kilometer zone, sealed since the end of
April, is an animal death camp with invisible
walls. People were evacuated with little notice,
and many domesticated animals, farmed and
companion, were trapped without food, water or
care. They die from dehydration at a faster rate
than starvation.
“While the Japanese government has
created a shelter in a converted warehouse in
Fukushima for exclusion-zone animals, along with
making some attempts to retrieve them from what I
call ‘nuclear ghost towns,’ the effort is spotty
at best,” Shoss charged. “A staff of 3-4 people
from Ministry of Environment, with 2-3 people
from Fuku-shima’s Environment, Food & Health
Division, comprise their animal rescue effort.
They leave food for animals, but only in areas
they can reach in a single day. They predict a
three-month recovery. Many animals, like the
cows we found, will not survive this long.
Animal rescuers do not, and will not, get
permission to enter the exclusion zone. There is
no magic piece of signed paper that grants entry.
We’ve certainly tried to find the so-called
permit. It simply does not exist.
“The Japan SPCA, Japan Animal Welfare
Society, and two other organizations operating
under the banner Earthquake Animal Rescue
Disaster Headquarters have said that they will
not enter the exclusion zone themselves,” Shoss
told ANIMAL PEOPLE. “They sponsor the sheltering
component only.
“Kinship Circle’s Japan deployment was to
end around June 1-2,” Shoss said. “After that,
we don’t have the financial resources to send
sponsored teams, pay for rental vehicles, pay
for tolls, gas, and so forth. However,”
Shoss said, “I am searching for a few volunteers
with veterinary experience and shelter
experience, or large animal rescue experience,
who are competent to work overseas, to deploy
via Kinship Circle, but work under Japan
Earthquake Animal Rescue Services,” a coalition
of four Japanese organizations, “once on the
Noted Shoss, “This has used the most
money we’ve ever invested in a disaster
deployment. Tsunami and earthquake-affected
areas run nearly 500 miles along Japan’s
northeast coast. Further inland, the expanding
radius of exclusion zone cities and villages
covers a wide area. The emergency shelters are
far to the south, in Niigata and Tokushima. So
transporting animals can require eight-hour
drives, and Japanese tolls are sometimes as high
as $240. Multiply that by the two months we’ve
already been on the ground and you can see why
the deployment is so costly.”
Elizabeth Oliver celebrated successful
rescues one at a time. On May 28, for example,
she e-mailed to supporters about having reunited
with family in Fukushima a dog who was found on
April 15. Another dog who was found with that
one was reunited with his people earlier.

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