It’s just gone 7am and an aftershock shakes the building awake. This one is big and lasts for maybe 30 seconds.
It’s more than two weeks since the massive earthquake and tsunami tore through Japan’s northeast coastline, yet tremors and ripples continue to wreak havoc and remind hundreds of thousands of survivors of their fears and losses.
I’m in Minamisanriku, Miyagi, one of the hardest-hit areas, with World Vision’s emergency response team. We’re helping distribute thousands of blankets, clothes and other essential items as temperatures reach freezing point across this part of Japan.
In the coming days we are establishing a program of children’s activities to provide safe places for children to play while their families try to adjust to the violent changes in their plans and fortunes.
More than 10,000 people are reported to have been killed in this crisis and 17,000 are reported missing and unaccounted for.
Survivors now live in makeshift camps in public buildings, sports centers and schools. The pounding tsunami turned their towns into a soup of twisted steel, wood, mud, concrete and chaos –cars perch on top of buildings 50 feet high.
The Japanese government has found refuge for around 250,000 people in 1,800 centers across the coastline. Many are raised up on hills, offering views of their destroyed towns below. Not forgetting that residents also must deal with the ongoing uncertainty of radiation leaks from the Fukushima nuclear reactor.
The resiliency of survivors is incredible. In the evacuation centers I visited today, people have divided duties amongst residents. A group of women thrown together by disaster, took control of the cooking duties from the officials assigned with the task. They chopped vegetables with great energy and boiled huge pans of Miso soup over a log fire, serving much-needed hot food for the 150 people staying there.
Another group of residents worked with World Vision and center staff to agree on a plan for the most equitable distribution of clothing. Fairness and equality are extremely important here. These values protect and build on what is a tangible sense of solidarity – “We have suffered together and will rebuild together” is a common refrain.
Well-run drills and ‘worst-case scenario’ procedures are being played out for real as national army troops bolster the humanitarian effort. It was reported today that forces have delivered nearly 10 million meals to those taking refuge.
I’ve worked in many disasters before but I’ve never seen anything quite on the scale of Japan’s emergency response. There are medical teams on site at the centers, aisles of boxes for different types of aid and even cell phone charging units to ensure people can stay connected.
The access to cell phones may well have saved thousands more lives. Moments after this morning’s aftershock I received an alert on my cell phone warning me of a possible tsunami. The television and radios carry the same message. The warning did not materialize this time.
There is certainly no quick-fix for long-term reconstruction in Japan. And there is a complicated humanitarian and development road ahead as rebuilding plans start to be drawn up. It’s good to be here to support the drive, care and commitment of the Japanese people, which will no doubt ensure that lives, livelihoods and communities are rebuilt in time.
World Vision staff distribute relief items at a
public gymnasium in Tome.
Thousands of buildings and homes were destroyed.
About World VisionWorld Vision is a Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families, and their communities worldwide reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice. We serve the world's poor -- regardless of religion, race, ethnicity or gender. For more information on their efforts, visit WorldVision.org/press or follow them on Twitter at @WorldVisionNews
Hundreds of survivors cram into a gymnasium
for shelter in Tome.
Rubble from Japan quake, tsunami.