Friday, April 8, 2011

Disaster survivors neglected in shelters: "We don’t know what to do. Should we try to relocate? The government isn't telling us anything."

There's no excuse for disaster survivors stranded in shelters in northern Japan to continue to be cold, hungry, thirsty, and without medical supplies and assistance.

Jon Mitchell gives voice to stranded and neglected earthquake and tsunami survivors in northern Japan who still have no heating, and inadequate blankets, food and water:

Tohoku people are renowned for their taciturn manners, and at first, people were reluctant to speak. Ten or fifteen minutes into the interviews, however, when they realized I wasn’t searching for a 5-second sound bite, something in them seemed to give way. Their stories came out in a flow of pain, guilt and disbelief at what they had experienced. Time and time again, they described the Hollywood-like disconnect of racing before the massive tsunami. “It was as though we were in a movie.”

There was another phrase that was just as common in these survivors’ testimonies. No matter how bad their homes had been damaged or how many of their friends and relatives were missing, Ishinomaki’s residents assured us that their losses were negligible. “There are other people far worse off than us.”

When the tsunami hit, I’d run back to my house to get some warm clothes. My house is a little old and I was worried that, as the waters rose, it wouldn’t be able to survive. So I jumped onto my neighbor’s veranda - their house is newer. I stayed on their balcony all night.

One day later, the waters were still waist deep. But after a couple of days, they’d receded to my knees.

Now, we stay here in this school classroom with 40 other people. We have no way to leave. Our cars have been washed away. But even if we had them, there’s no gas available. We don’t know what to do. Should we try to relocate? Should we stay? The government isn't telling us anything.

Tadahiro Haga

 I was working in my office when the earthquake struck. It came in three distinct waves. As soon as it was over, I put on the radio and heard the tsunami warning. I jumped on my bicycle and went door to door warning people to flee to high ground. Hundreds of people were running from the port area, screaming that the tsunami was coming. I heard the roar of the water and cycled as hard as I could towards this school. I ran up to the second floor and when I looked down, the whole of the grounds were two meters deep in water.

Now, two weeks on, there are 500 people taking shelter here in Minato Elementary School. We need food and water, blankets - it gets so cold that we wake up in the middle of the night in pain. A lot of the older evacuees are traumatized. In the daytime we have doctors, but when people grow sick at night, it’s impossible to do anything for them until the next day.

Yoshiaki Shoji
Read more and find out about Peace Boat's work in Tohoku here.

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