The dog Elsa is described by her trainer as “the best in western Japan”. She is one of the rescue dogs who have been working alongside soldiers and emergency teams in the search for survivors of the devastating earthquake that hit the Asian country hours after New Year’s Eve.
Deftly navigating between loose tiles and wooden beams, Elsa sniffs out the remains of a ruined house in Wajima, a coastal town that was one of the hardest hit by the 7.6 magnitude earthquake. She, the military and rescuers are looking for an elderly woman who, according to evidence, is trapped under the rubble of her home.
“Please, Elsa, please find her,” pleads someone among a crowd of neighbors watching the efforts of the black-furred, pointy-eared dog.
The animal was brought to Wajima by Yasuhiro Morita, who runs a rescue dog training center about 500 km away, in the western region of Tottori.
“She was trained to bark when she finds a corpse”, explains Morita to the report. “But today it was just a crowd, which probably means there are no dead people there,” she added.
Elsa is not the only dog involved in the rescue operations. The Japanese Defense Minister announced that another rescue dog, Jennifer, was responsible for finding another elderly woman alive trapped under the rubble.
Damage is extensive in Wajima and other parts of Ishikawa Prefecture, located on the coast of the Sea of Japan.
Aftershocks of the initial earthquake have continued to shake the region since Monday’s earthquake (2), also responsible for landslides, a tsunami with waves more than one meter high and a large fire.
Figures released this Friday by authorities confirmed 94 deaths as a result of the tremors — 222 people are still missing.
Furthermore, water and food are scarce. “I assume they’re already on their way,” says Wajima resident Hiroyuki Hamatani, 53, confidently.
The tunnels on the outskirts of the city, which has around 23,000 inhabitants, are partially blocked by rocks. Ruined houses can be seen along the road, and debris and snow have invaded the road.
Those who arrive in Wajima are faced with even more striking images. What was once an imposing seven-story building is now horizontal, and fallen electricity poles block traffic on one street.
“Is there anyone there? Please respond!” shouts a soldier as his team searches for another missing resident amid the ruins of a house.
The earthquake also caused a huge fire in the area where a fair used to be set up, resulting in around 200 structures reduced to dust.
An 80-year-old man who did not want to be identified looked sadly at the wreckage. “I came to check on my relatives, but I haven’t been able to do it yet,” he says. “This is terrible, terrible,” he sighs. “It’s as if there had been a war.”