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


"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 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.'"


Translated By Ai Ishii


March 17, 2011


Japan - Mainichi Shimbun, Japan - Original Article (Japanese)

Japan confronts greater devestation than anyone could have imagined just days ago.


NHK NEWS VIDEO: Live coverage of the aftermath of yesterday's 9.0 magnitude earthquake, from Japanese broadcaster NHKRealVideo

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

as their homes and livelihoods are washed away.



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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.”


Members of Virginia's Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department

search 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 Institute of 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.   



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 survey.


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 their isolation.”



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[Posted by WORLDMEETS.US March 18, 4:59pm]


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