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Meet the kind man who saves forgotten cats from Fukushima's nuclear zone

Sakae Kato lives in a home deeply affected by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, but that does not stop him from rescuing the area's abandoned cats.

Meet the kind man who saves forgotten cats from Fukushima's nuclear zone
Image Source: Kim Kyung-Hoon / japantimes / Twitter

In March 2011, the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan's Ōkuma, Fukushima Prefecture experienced a nuclear disaster caused by the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. The incident left one person dead owing to radiation exposure. It also left 16 people with physical injuries due to hydrogen explosions, and two workers were taken to the hospital with possible radiation burns. Now, over a decade later, much of Fukushima remains empty. However, its ghost towns have a few furry inhabitants: the cats abandoned by families when they fled the area. Sakae Kato is one resident who did not flee. To this day, he lives in Fukushima and rescues the cats left behind 10 years ago, Good Morning America reports.


"I want to make sure I am here to take care of the last one," he said in an interview with the news outlet. "After that, I want to die, whether that be a day or hour later." Kato currently lives in the contaminated quarantine zone and looks after 41 cats who reside in his home, which doubles as a cat shelter, and in another empty building on his property. To date, he has had to bury 23 cats in his garden. Unfortunately, the most recent graves were disturbed by wild boars that roam freely within the depopulated area.


Two of the cats under his care, named Mokkun and Charm, are infected with feline leukemia virus. He has even rescued a dog named Pochi. For feral cats who are not under his care, Kato leaves food in a storage shed that he heats with a paraffin stove. As there is currently no running water in Ōkuma, he fills bottles from a nearby mountain spring and drives to access public toilets. According to the kind citizen's estimates, he spends about $7,000 a month on his animals. Part of it is used to buy dog food for the wild boar that gathers near his house at sunset. (Farmers, who consider boars pests, blame them for wrecking homes that were left empty.)


Kato is now 57 years old and was formerly a small construction business owner. He stayed on despite seeing everyone around him evacuate in part because of the shock he experienced when he discovered dead pets in the abandoned houses that he helped demolish. Furthermore, the cats have given him a reason to continue residing on land that has been owned by his family for three generations now. He stated, "I don't want to leave, I like living in these mountains."


He is worried about the future of his home, a two-story wooden structure that is at present in terrible condition. Its floorboards have gone rotten and are now sagging. Its wall panels and roof tiles, which previously kept the rain out, were dislodged by a powerful earth tremor just last month. "It might last another two or three years," he shared. "The walls have started to lean." Furthermore, Kato was arrested on February 25 on suspicions that he freed a wild boar caught in traps set up by Japan's government in November last year. He is still being held for questioning. However, decontamination in fields near the good samaritan's house implies that other residents will soon be allowed to return. Meanwhile, Kato's future remains up in the same air once shrouded in radiation clouds from the nearby Fukushima nuclear plant.


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