AmeriCares relief efforts are underway in the aftermath of the largest natural disaster ever to strike Japan. Since last Friday’s record 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami that wiped out entire communities and took thousands of lives, AmeriCares and its relief workers in Japan are working to deliver medicines and supplies to hospitals, shelters and health responders to treat and care for survivors.
The Japanese government has deployed 100,000 troops to the northeast coast for emergency operations, with hundreds of national and international search and rescue teams joining the effort on the scene of epic devastation. Focus is beginning to shift from search and rescue for survivors to caring for the homeless.
The AmeriCares team began mobilizing within hours of the first reports of the dual disasters, dispatching an emergency response manager to Tokyo to direct the efforts of our relief workers in Sendai, the largest city closest to the impact zone. Our team is in direct contact with local officials, evacuation shelters and hospitals treating the injured in Miyagi, Fukushima and Iwate to determine health needs.
Based on these early assessments, AmeriCares is preparing a shipment of basic hygiene items originating in Japan for urgent delivery to shelters in Miyagi and Iwate where hundreds of thousands of survivors have been forced to flee their homes. In addition to building a relief convoy for shipments to Sendai, AmeriCares is setting up an office in Tokyo to coordinate our relief efforts.
The official death toll, last reported at more than 6,000, climbs daily and over 10,000 people are still reported missing. Some 500,000 people have been evacuated, with many living in the more than 2,500 evacuation centers set up in local prefectures. There are widespread shortages of food, water and fuel. Rescue operations continue to be hampered by numerous aftershocks, tsunami alerts, electricity outages, snow and freezing temperatures. Many impacted areas along the northeast coast remain isolated and unreachable by emergency personnel.
“Our goal now is to concentrate on the immediate health needs of the affected population, particularly of those families living in shelters,” said Michelle Jackson, AmeriCares emergency response manager. “Over the longer term, we will focus on restoring health services that have been lost and helping hard-hit communities rebuild.”
The deepening crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plant, as a result of extensive damage from the quake and tsunami, continues to raise fears of a more dangerous radiation threat after numerous attempts to cool the overheating reactors have failed. Authorities in Japan have warned people within a 20-mile radius of the plant to evacuate or stay inside their homes, as unpredictable weather and wind conditions could risk spreading radioactive contamination.
The Record Earthquake
The island nation is confronting the catastrophic damage from a massive 9.0-magnitude earthquake that struck northern Japan last Friday, unleashing a deadly tsunami and causing major destruction along coastal towns. The tsunami that followed the quake with frightening speed and power wiped away everything in its path three miles inland.
This is the fifth largest earthquake ever recorded, and it is the largest in Japan’s recorded history. Scientists at the US Geological Survey report that the force of the quake moved parts of eastern Japan as much as 12 feet closer to North America, as well as shifting the earth on its axis some 6.5 inches.
In 1995, AmeriCares responded to the Kobe earthquake in Japan, delivering 400,000 pounds of medicines and medical supplies, while helping locally to supply temporary structures for shelter and mobile care. In a single day, 300,000 were homeless, 15,000 injured and 5,000 lost their lives in a major disaster that affected one of Japan’s leading industrial cities.
For more than 25 years AmeriCares has provided medical relief and humanitarian assistance to millions affected by natural disasters and man-made crises around the world. Wherever people are in desperate need, we are there.