Early response targets hardest hit cities
The severe earthquake that struck without warning along Japan's northeast coast on March 11 and the subsequent tsunami stripped hundreds of thousands of survivors of the most fundamental necessities. While the island nation of Japan continued to endure aftershocks, the results of the tsunami, and the threat of damaged nuclear plants, people from all over the world began to respond with donations to help. TPRF supporters responded promptly and generously, raising over $130,000 in the first two weeks.
TPRF has awarded US$100,000 of the donations targeted for Japan toMercyCorps, a previous partner of TPRF, that is responding quickly to the disaster with its Japanese partner, Peace Winds.
The money is supporting the immediate distribution of food, warm clothing, tents, hygiene supplies and other basic necessities in at least four tsunami-devastated cities on the northeastern coast of Japan. An acknowledged expert in disaster response strategies, MercyCorps has joined Peace Winds in a commitment to continue support until the situation has stabilized.
At least 371,800 evacuees are homeless, and Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare reports that an estimated 1.4 million households in 14 prefectures have no access to water, 1.25 million households are without electricity, and gas supplies are running low for almost 3.2 million people. The Ministry also expressed concerns about widespread water contamination. In addition, survivors must cope with fears of radiation exposure from the severely damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station.
For its initial relief efforts, MercyCorps has targeted four of the worst-affected urban areas in Migayi Prefecture: Kesennuma, a city of 70,000 that was completely engulfed in flames following the quake; Rikuzentakata, where 8 of 11 emergency evacuation points were taken out by 75-foot waves that crashed nearly five miles inland; and the devastated port city of Ofunato.
Speaking early last week from the scene, Randy Martin, Mercy Corps' director of global emergency operations, said that the response team was making multiple daily deliveries of relief supplies by air and road to hundreds of evacuees living in temporary shelters. The team also brought in emergency supplies including blankets, kerosene, gasoline, tarps, rice, and bread.
Reporting from Migayi Prefecture, Joy Portella, director of communication for MercyCorps, recounted the story of the Satos, a couple who were among 500 elderly people attending a celebratory event when the tsunami trapped them on the fourth floor of a building. Packed like sardines, they remained pressed together shoulder-to-shoulder, standing in floodwater for two days until help arrived.
The Satos are now living in a high-school gymnasium along with more than 200 other people. They still lack all but basic necessities, and their future is uncertain. But the assistance they have received has restored their dignity and courage.
“We know most of the people here—at least we know their faces,” Mrs. Sato told Ms. Portella. “Everyone’s cooperating and doing their best. Our bond is stronger than ever now that we’re all living together."
MercyCorps is also planning to work with Peace Winds to establish its signature Comfort for Kids program in Japan, which will provide post-trauma psychosocial assistance to the disaster's youngest survivors and their caregivers.
Photos by Joy Portella courtesy of "Peace Winds Japan for Mercy Corps"