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AmeriCares and its relief workers in Japan are working on aid convoys to Sendai, the largest city nearest the impact zone, to help survivors of the record 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami that struck on March 11.
The largest natural disaster in Japan’s history has destroyed entire coastal towns and the government has confirmed that nearly 22,000 people are dead or missing. Freezing temperatures, power outages, fuel shortages and concerns about radiation exposure continue to hamper relief efforts in the devastated northeast region.
The 100,000 troops deployed by the Japanese government and the hundreds of national and international rescue teams are shifting their focus from search and rescue for survivors to caring for the huge numbers of homeless families. In recent days, some 40,000 people have been able to return to their communities after electricity was restored, but another 350,000 people, many of whom are elderly, are living in emergency shelters with nowhere to go.
AmeriCares is staging relief convoys of hundreds of cases of basic hygiene items in Tokyo for delivery to shelters in impacted local prefectures. In addition, AmeriCares is working with our donor companies in Japan, and our relief team is meeting with doctors in Miyagi prefecture hospitals to assess and fill acute shortages of medicines, primarily for diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and asthma.
Medical care and psychological support, particularly at the evacuation centers and shelters, is being provided by more than 100 medical teams staffed by the government. Officials and medical personnel are also concerned about the deteriorating conditions at some shelters and the spread of influenza and other contagious illnesses among evacuees.
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 and caring for evacuees in Miyagi, Fukushima and Iwate to determine health needs.
Based on these early assessments and the anticipated need for humanitarian aid to last many months, AmeriCares is expanding our team on the ground and setting up an office in Tokyo to coordinate our relief efforts.
An important first step has been taken in the relief planning process with AmeriCares participation in the first inter-agency organizational meeting led by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and included representatives of the Japanese Cabinet, UN agencies, and Japanese NGOs. We worked in sessions focusing on health, non-food items and coordination.
Immediate Needs in Shelters and Hospitals
In the more than 2,500 evacuation centers set up in local prefectures, there are shortages of food, water, fuel and basic supplies. Much of the crisis response in the early days continues to come from the local disaster management committees who organize and run the shelters. Hospitals and the local committees are reporting shortages of medicines to AmeriCares, particularly chronic care medicines.
“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. “Looking ahead, we know from our three decades of experience that emergencies of this magnitude can overwhelm even the most prepared countries, and we are prepared to help with the daunting task of meeting the basic needs of hundreds of thousands of evacuees – many of whom are elderly and have health conditions that require ongoing attention.”
Emergency work continues in attempts to cool the damaged reactors at the Fukushima nuclear plant, as fears of radiation remain high. 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.
AmeriCares is monitoring the situation closely, evaluating health risks to ensure the safety of our relief workers.
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 nearly 30 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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