Sunday, 13 March 2011

Update 14 March earthquake in Japan

My colleague Patrick Fuller phoned in at 2 a.m this morning Japan time from Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan, to give this report to our HQs.


I arrived at the Japanese Red Cross hospital today in Ishinomaki. It is a beacon of light, literally, in a city without power. Half of Ishinomaki, a city of about 165,000 people, was engulfed by the tsunami.

The Red Cross hospital is the main medical facility in the region providing crucial health services for a population spread over a radius of about 100 kilometres.

The big focus is still on search and rescue in a desperate race against the clock to save those who may be trapped and wounded beneath colossal mounds of debris.

Nobody here is talking or speculating about how many may have lost their lives. We know the number is going to be high, but for now it is about saving those who may have survived. Collecting the remains of those who have died will be the next major phase of this relief operation.

There is a real concern for the elderly who have been particularly hard hit and are extremely vulnerable to hypothermia. Japan is a country with a high proportion of elderly people and the Red Cross will be doing all it can to support them through this dreadful experience.

At the Red Cross hospital, no space is left unused. Exhausted Red Cross medics sleep side by side with the wounded. Trained volunteers have come from all corners of Japan to support the effort and are working round the clock in four-day shifts. And still droves of injured people in need of medical help arrive – the wounded arrive on foot, by helicopter or carried by their fellow citizens.
I am about 5 kilometres from the area that was hardest hit. I’ll be heading there at daybreak to assess the situation and learn from my Red Cross colleagues what major challenges they are facing.


Patrick Fuller IFRC (left)

As if things weren’t grim enough here, news is surfacing about a nuclear power facility in Onagawa, only 15 kilometres east of where I am now, that is reported to be severely damaged with excessive levels of radiation being recorded.

It’s all almost too much to comprehend, but I’ll take a leaf from the book of my Japanese Red Cross colleagues and keep fully focused on the job at hand – saving those who have survived by treating the wounded, the displaced and the orphaned.
Patrick Fuller is the IFRC's communications manager for Asia Pacific.


A woman is rescued from a flooded area in Ishinomaki City, Miyagi Prefecture in northern Japan, March 13, 2011.

If you want to learn more about earthquakes this year and the Ring Of Fire, please click here: http://vimeo.com/20966740


Latest update - general

Radiation levels have surged at the Japanese nuclear plant where there may have been a partial meltdown, as rescue staff talked of finding hundreds of bodies in tsunami and quake-ravaged areas of Japan.


Officials now believe at least 10,000 people were killed in one area, Miyagi, alone following Friday's magnitude 9.0 earthquake and 10-metre high tsunami.

Police and the military have reported finding groups of hundreds of bodies at several locations along Japan's destroyed north-east coastline.

More than 530,000 people had been evacuated in the wake of the disaster.

 A grim-faced Prime Minister Naoto Kan described the crisis at Japan's worst since 1945.


"The earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear incident have been the biggest crisis Japan has encountered in the 65 years since the end of World War II," Kan told a news conference.

"We're under scrutiny on whether we, the Japanese people, can overcome this crisis."

Officials worst fears involve the three reactors at the Fukushima complex, where they have been forced to release radioactive steam into the air to relieve reactor pressure. If the containers that house the cores melt, or even explode, large amounts of radioactive material could be released into the atmosphere.

SURVIVOR STORIES
I picked these survivor stories up on Asahi Shimbun, Japanes leading Newspaper,


An aerial view of the flooded Wakabayashi Ward in Sendai.(Takaharu Yagi) (LEFT)

A 60-year-old man has been rescued from the roof of his floating home far out at sea, two days after a tsunami devastated Japan's north-east coast.


Hiromitsu Shinkawa was found by a defence ministry destroyer 15km (10 miles) from shore, officials said.

Mr Shinkawa's house in Minami Soma city in Fukushima prefecture had been ripped from its foundations and swept away by the retreating tsunami.
He was spotted waving a piece of red cloth, while clinging to the wreckage.

Mr Shinkawa told his rescuers that the tsunami had hit as he and his wife returned home to gather some possessions after the earthquake, and that his wife was swept away.

She is still missing.

"Several helicopters and ships passed by, but none of them noticed me. I thought that day was going to be the last day of my life," he was quoted as saying by a defence agency spokesman.

"I ran away after I heard a tsunami was coming. But I turned back to fetch something from home and was swept away. I was rescued while hanging on to the roof of my house," he said.
Mr Shinkawa was reported to be in "good condition" after being taken to hospital by helicopter.

Military officials said mild weather and relatively calm seas had helped him stay adrift for 48 hours, Kyodo news agency reported.


SENDAI--Survivors of the massive tsunami Friday which leveled a coastal district in Sendai provided harrowing accounts of how they barely escaped with their lives.

After the huge wave, about 5 or 6 meters, receded in the Arahama district in Sendai's Wakabayashi Ward, survivors were confronted with a wasteland of mud and debris--lumber, overturned cars, bent signposts and utility poles.

Amid this unforgiving landscape, a 29-year-old man called out from the second floor of an auto repair factory.

"Is rescue on the way, yet? We've called 119 (emergency number) but nobody's coming," the man said.

He said he and his family of five--his wife, his 6-month-old son, his parents and grandmother--had narrowly escaped as they tried to flee the approaching wall of water, mud and debris in their car.

According to the man, soon after the initial shockwave from the M8.8 quake stopped, a police officer ordered residents to evacuate, saying a tsunami was coming.

When the man looked toward the ocean, he said he saw something that looked like "smoke."

Suddenly, the stand of pine trees that lined the beachfront and utility poles were flattened and he heard a terrible roaring sound.

He saw a man running toward him, but the man was quickly swallowed up by the charging tsunami.

He jumped into his car with his family hoping to beat the wave, but it soon caught them.

Horrified, the family felt the car lifted up by the water and carried about 300 meters before being dumped in a rice paddy.

They stayed in the car until Saturday morning, but were forced to abandon the vehicle when water started to seep into the car.

Around 6 a.m. Saturday, the man and his family crawled out through a window and found shelter at the auto repair shop.

(LEFT) A man carries a small dog as he walks through the rubble in Sendai's Wakabayashi Ward Saturday. (Shiro Nishihata)

Another man, 36, said he spotted the tsunami after hearing a loud crackling as the pine trees were knocked over.

"I could see a black wave measuring 5 or 6 meters coming at me," the man said. He threw his 5-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son into his car and drove for about three kilometers up a hill to safety.

"I'm sure we would have died if we hadn't gotten out of there," he said.

A helicopter arrived around 9 a.m. to rescue victims stranded in the district.

(Thanks to Asahi Shimbun for permission to run this article on survivors by Takahiro Sasaki and Toru Okuda.)

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Thanks for sharing these powerful stories. God bless all those who are out there in this cold weather rescuing and supporting the survivors and bringing the information to us.

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I agree with you 100%. It's difficult work for rescuers, medics, RC and Govt officials, but also the grieving families.
What else can you say?

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