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Japan Mounts Massive Rescue Effort and Grapples with Radiation Threat

  • March 16, 2011

In the aftermath of the largest natural disaster ever to strike Japan, the numbers being reported by the government are staggering, and on the rise.  With a confirmed death toll of 2,722, some 10,000 people are still missing and 500,000 people have been evacuated from the impact zone.  Approximately 2.6 million homes remain without electricity and there are widespread shortages of food, water and fuel.

A massive rescue and relief effort is underway with the Japanese government deploying 100,000 defense force troops to assist emergency operations, along with 190 planes and 45 boats to the affected region in the north. 

Additionally, Japan has received offers of assistance from 69 countries worldwide.  Rescue and relief operations continue to be hampered by numerous aftershocks, tsunami alerts and fires.  Many areas along the northeast coast remain isolated and unreachable by emergency personnel.

After three explosions and a fire in four days, the situation at the Fukushima nuclear plant grew more serious, raising fears of a more dangerous radiation threat.  With a potential shift in wind direction, authorities warned people as far as 20 miles away from the plant to stay inside.

“There is still a very high risk of further radioactive material coming out,” Prime Minister Naoto Kan said, asking people to remain calm.  About 210,000 people living within a 12-mile radius of the plant already had been evacuated.

Michelle Jackson, AmeriCares emergency response manager, arrived in Tokyo to join local relief workers to assess medical needs and coordinate with government officials and other international partner organizations. AmeriCares is also directly in contact with hospitals treating the injured in Miyagi, Fukushima and Iwate. 

“Hospitals and institutions are still evaluating their situation as the government struggles with the huge scale of this disaster; we are assessing the most immediate medical needs, and we will be responding,” Michelle said.  “We are prepared to support hospitals and health care providers with the supplies they need to diagnose, treat and heal survivors.”

The Record Earthquake

The island nation is confronting the catastrophic damage from a record 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.

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