Thursday 7 July 2011

Earthquake Terror: Stories for Sendai

The Free State Goldfields contain
some of the deepest mines in the world.
10h38.  Wednesday.
December 8, 1976.
Welkom, South Africa.
My home town, and the middle of the morning underground shifts on some of the deepest goldmines in the world. Thousands of men, including my Dad, my brother-in-law-to-be and my cousin, working in the heat and the dust far beneath the earth's surface.
The ground shivered and then shook for what seemed like hours, but was only a few minutes. To people inured against violent earth tremors, we knew this was a bad one.  Then the news started filtering in…
The Dagbreek fault lying deep in the earth had finally stirred and groaned.
We were lucky though: this quake only measured approximately 5.5 on the Richter scale and, despite extensive damage to surface and underground structures, only four people died. Only one six-story building collapsed. Every person in the building was evacuated but, sadly, many animals were trapped inside because their owners were at work and weren’t allowed back into the building to rescue them.
8 December 1976, Welkom.
Photograph: The Star

The terror of those animals has always bothered me. Locked up by their absent owners, they had no hope of escape. Did they bark and miaouw and scramble frantically around, trying to find an escape? Or did they tremble in fear as the foundations of the building trembled and crumbled and finally crashed? How long did it take them to die? Did they cry for their owners, trusting that those people who had loved and cared for them would come and save them?
But, in the concern for human lives deeply affected by natural disasters, the helpless animals are often forgotten.
14h46.  Friday, March 11, 2011. Higashi Nihon Daishinsai.  Measuring 9 on the Richter, an undersea megathrust earthquake off the coast of Japan strikes, triggering a tsunami. Together these natural disasters cause so much damage to Japan that it will take decades to repair the physical damage. Who knows how long it will take the Japanese people to recover emotionally?
And the animals? What of those poor creatures who are so heavily reliant on the kindness of humankind?
The cities of Niigata, Ishinomaki and Sendai were worst hit by this disaster but, amongst the rubble and the despair, there were glimmers of hope. As families were not allowed to keep their pets with them at the emergency shelters, animal rescue stations - like the one run by Mr Akitsugu Kakimoto - sprang up. Following the earthquake, Kakimoto san has been providing shelter to abandoned pets, and also acts as the coordinator for the various agencies taking action in Niigata to help the animals there.
More amazing stories of happy reunions and incredible rescues have filtered through the media: 
There are more stories of the on-going efforts of Japanese and international animal rescue missions on AnimalRescueJapan’s Facebook page.
You, too, can help the animal and human victims of this great disaster by buying a copy of ‘Stories for Sendai.’ Editors J C Martin and Michelle Davidson Argyle compiled an anthology of inspirational short stories loosely themed around the strength of the human spirit. Read about the authors and their stories on Stories for Sendai.

All sale proceeds of this exciting anthology will be donated to GlobalGiving in aid of victims of the earthquake and tsunami. GlobalGiving will disburse the funds to relief organisations and emergency services on the ground, including International Medical Corps and Save the Children.
Let's hope that the animals victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake disaster will also be remembered.
Underground photos from
Earthquake destruction photos from
Japanese references:


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Judy .. I can imagine your terror and anxiety for your Dad and family in their underground workings .. it must be a time of great anxiety when an earth tremor, or quake strikes.

Your information on the animals and tying the circumstances back to Sendai brings shivers to my mind.

I expect they knew the tsunamai was coming before the humans did .. as probably so did the animals at Welkom ..

Certainly the natural world knew about the earthquake in Italy at Assissi before humans realised.

So thank you for posting this about the animals .. they must suffer too and they do communicate ..

Wonderful to know about Mr Akitsugu Kakimoto and his fantastic work .. Stories for Sendai is such a good way to raise extra funds for an area that will take at least a generation or two to even remotely return to normal.

Thanks Judy - a really thoughtful post .. all the best Hilary

J.C. Martin said...

What a wonderful article! I love how you made it personal. That is amazing work AnimalRescueJapan is doing! Thanks for sharing! :)

Ann Summerville said...

Having lived in California, I'm aware of how sudden and scary earthquakes can be. As far as disasters are concerned, the way the animals during the Katrina hurricane were treated is a appalling, I hope that people are not deliberately separated from the pets again.

Nancy J. Parra said...

Thank you for posting. Such a sad and scary thing. Your words brought it straight home.
Yay, for animal rescue in Japan.

Our pets depend on us to be there. Let's hope we always are. Cheers~

Tabouleh said...

Thank you for such an eye-opening post... like you, I have always wondered about the animals and what happens to animals when their owners are unable to take care of them... I watch the animal rescue programs on Animal Planet and wonder how people can abuse animals or leave them uncared for... that si why my husband and I will not keep animals if we live in apartment buildings... we fear for them... Whenever I hear of wars or watch videos of a disaster, i worry about the people but I also think of the animals... Mr. Kakimoto san is a man to be admired... inspirational... thank you for introducing him to me.

A Cuban In London said...

Thank you for such a profound post. It's true that we often forget the animals. I have to admit that my thoughts went first to the Japanese families and that animals haven't played a major role in this tragedy.

Many thanks. That was a very touching post.

Greetings from London.

Helen Ginger said...

You didn't say, but I hope your Dad, your cousin and your brother-in-law-to-be were all okay. It's so frightening to watch and wait for those trapped in mines or underground to be freed. I rather wish my daughter didn't live in San Francisco which lies on a fault line.

Michelle D. Argyle said...

Thank you for this beautiful post! My mom told me that dog story because she had seen it on the news. Amazing, truly.

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

HILARY: Yes, I’m certain animals know long beforehand – I don’t have the details, but I always remember the story from after the terrible boxing day 2006 (?) tsunami that destroyed so much of Thailand< India etc. Apparently there was one small island with no loss of human or animal life…a few hours before the tsunami struck, the islanders saw the wild animals heading up to high ground, so they packed up and followed and were saved! Amazing animals. Hope all well with you & Mum! :)

JC: In my research for this article I was so impressed with all the animal rescue societies that helped in Japan. Was heartwarming

ANN (Cozy): Yes, of course, California is also in a dangerous area. Wouldn’t want to live there, despite the beautiful weather. I’ve warned my husband, that if something ever happens here (God forbid) HRH Theodorable goes where I do!

NANCY: Great to have you visit ! :) Double Yay, for Japan Animal Rescue!

LANA (Tabouleh): I can’t watch any animal programmes – Husband has to watch them alone. I hate seeing what mankind does to the animals. I get so furious when a person gets trampled to death by a rhino (for some thoughtless reason like getting out the car to take photos of the baby rhino!) or eaten by a shark, and then the animal gets shot down. Hello? It’s us humans invading their territory, why do they get killed for doing what we’d do – protecting their home? You’ve probably guessed, I’m on the side of the beasties! And on the side of wonderful people like Mr Kakimoto san! is a man to be admired... inspirational... thank you for introducing him to me.

CUBAN: I get very upset when I think of the poor animals…so my post was a bit emotional, but thanks for your kind comment!

HELEN: Dad was acting Section Manager at the time, so he’s come up early – cousin and brother- in-law-to-be were both caught underground for HOURS, but luckily no serious damage, other than to their and our nerves! You must be so anxious about your daughter in SF – all these disaster movies that come out of Hollywood make me wonder how anyone lives there or in LA at all! (My now brother in law LOVES San Francisco – says it’s a wonderful place, and he has travelled all over the world)

MICHELLE: There were so many sweet animal rescue videos, it was hard to choose, but that one had lots of views so I put it in. I spent ages watching the rescues and, really, some were so sad and others so moving, it was quite something.

Judith Mercado said...

When we leave our dog alone at home, I often consider what would happen if for whatever reason we did not return. Thinking of the sheer helplessness he would find himself in tears me up. I live in an area prone to hurricanes and what to do about our dog is something we have had to face more than once. Pets are not allowed in temporary shelters. We once smuggled our dog into a hotel,which was taking a big risk because we would have been thrown out and there were no spare hotel rooms and travel to relatives was out of the question because of distance and weather conditions. It is hurricane season again, and I sincerely hope we don't have to revisit this issue again. I feel so badly for those animals which have suffered in recent natural disasters. Thank you for highlighting this issue.

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

JUDITH: The same thing worries me about HRH Theodorable, so we've had the security system special adapted that we can set the full house alarm and leave a window open just wide enough for her to get out if she needs to. Luckily here in Jozi there's neither hurricanes nor earthquakes (and DV it stays that way!) but I still keep that window open for her!

septembermom said...

This is an important post in many ways, Judy. Thank you for remembering those animal victims of Japan's disaster too. They are too often forgotten.

I'm glad that your family is okay. How scary for you all.

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

KELLY: It was scary! My Mom said she's never known me to get home so fast and all I said was 'Have you heard about Dad?" and the next was 'Where's Smokey?" (he was my cat). I can't begin to imagine how those poor people in Japan felt.