The Japanese earthquake and tsunami have taken
a harsh toll
on the elderly, whose peaceful retirements have
turned into a
nightmare of homelessness and desolation.
Mainichi Shimbun, Japan
Japan Rescuers Find it Tough Going; Many Victims Remain Cut Off
Defense Ministry says that about 190 helicopters have been sent to stricken
areas, but because some must be set aside in case of emergency, less than half are
engaged in rescue efforts. … A senior official said, 'these isolated districts
are spread out over a large area. Helicopters can only fly for several hours -
and it takes 10-20 minutes to haul in each survivor, so we're working at a
frustratingly slow pace.'"
In the earthquake-affected areas
of northeastern Japan, many communities remain cut off from the outside world,
with no access to transportation or communications. At least 9,200 people are known
to be completely isolated. The fact is, despite the strenuous search and rescue
missions carried out by the Self Defense Force and the Fire Defense and
Disaster Management Agency, the true extent of the damage remains unclear. Yesterday,
the Miyagi Prefecture Disaster Countermeasures Office launched air and ground search
missions, but finding and rescuing people trapped in isolated villages
scattered over such a wide area has proven extremely difficult.
The Self Defense Force has dispatched 76,000 troops and personnel, more than has ever been assembled for a
disaster. “UH60” rescue helicopters and “UH1” multi-use helicopters are
continuing to rescue people stranded in hospitals and on school rooftops. Their
method is to identify communities that might have survivors from above, and
then fly at a low altitude to see if there is anyone seeking help from the roofs
of buildings that withstood the tsunami.
But when people are unable to
send any form of distress signals, such as the elderly, it is exceedingly hard
to find them. Koji Otsuka, a senior consultant at the Japanese Institute of
Technology on Fishing Ports, Grounds and Communities, who researches the risk
of isolation faced by fishing villages, suggests that, “it may be that elderly
residents of small villages who have sought refuge in community centers may not
have been found yet.”
Residents of Kesennuma in Miyagi Prefecture watch in shock
Rescue activities have been
hampered by a variety of circumstances. The Defense Ministry says that about 190
helicopters have been sent to stricken areas, but because some must be set
aside in case of emergency, less than half are engaged in rescue efforts.
A senior SDF official commented
that, “these isolated districts are spread out over a large area. Helicopters
can only fly for several hours - and it takes 10-20 minutes to haul each
survivor onto a helicopter, so we're working at a frustratingly slow pace.”
Priority has been given to hospital patients and residents of care homes, so in
some cases survivors are being told to wait.
Information gathered by air
is communicated to ground units of the Ground Self Defense Force, which then
locates roads that can be used for rescue missions. If large vehicles with
transport capacity can find a way in, progress can be made, but the reality is,
mud and rubble from toppled homes creates great obstacles to rescue efforts.
For this reason, the SDF use
helicopters to bring food and blankets to isolated communities. The Defense Ministry
says that in the first instance, it will “continue to distribute supplies so
that the people we can't rescue yet can survive.”
of Virginia's Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department
for survivors in Ofunato, Japan, Mar. 15.
The Defense Ministry has requested
the support of the U.S. military. The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan
is anchored off the coast of Sendai
City. Carrier-born aircraft, helicopters and the helicopter of SDF
supply ship Tokiwa are transporting 30,000 meals' worth of emergency food
supplies to Kesennuma City in Miyagi Prefecture and
other affected areas.
Consultant Koji Otsuka of the
Technology on Fishing Ports, Grounds and Communities says that, “isolated survivors have no access to information, so they
have a tendency to think that they've been abandoned and so are prone to great
anxiety. Even if for a brief moment when distributing supplies, it would be
hugely beneficial to show support by holding their hand or telling them 'everything
will be alright' and 'we will definitely be back to save you.'”
The issue of how to help isolated
communities was highlighted after the 2004 earthquake in Niigata Prefecture. The
Cabinet Office’s 2005 report revealed that there are about 19,000 communities
in danger of becoming isolated in the event of an earthquake. In the same year,
an expert committee put together by the Cabinet Office gave recommendations to put
measures in place to enable communications, maintain emergency power, and
stockpile water and food for these communities.
Posted by WORLDMEETS.US
Yet since these measures were
discussed, hardly anything has improved. A 2009 survey of all prefectures conducted
by Mainichi Shimbun showed that of all the communities at risk, only 393
had satellite phones, which are considered most effective in the event of an
earthquake. That's a slight increase from the 277 communities reported in our 2005
The Mainichi Shimbun survey
also showed that although shelters were available in 68 percent of communities,
only 17 percent were adequately earthquake resistant and only 2 percent emergency
power supplies. Figures were virtually the same as those from 2005.
It costs 400,000-600,000 yen [$5,000-$7300]
to install a satellite cell phone and about 5,000-20,000 yen [$60-$245] a month
to maintain. Motoyuki Ushiyama, associate professor at the Center for
Integrated Research and Education of Natural Hazards at Shizuoka University, points
out that “local governments are hesitant because of the cost. After a number of
mergers, some have even decreased their stock of telecommunications equipment.”
Torrential rainfall last
October isolated some communities in Amami Oshima in Kagoshima Prefecture. As a
result, the Cabinet Office decided to provide aid for half the cost of installing
satellite cell phones to those local governments that needed them. Two hundred million
yen [$2,450,000] was set aside for this in the 2011 budget. Unfortunately, the
massive earthquake struck just as the state had begun to roll out these measures.
Koji Otsuka maintains that, “this
new tragedy is a consequence of the state putting off the development of
information infrastructure in under-populated areas. It is essential to re-inspect
these communities around the country and urgently strengthen measures to limit
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