A Blizzard in the Disaster Zone: Blog from the CARE emergency team in Northern Japan


By Robert Laprade

CARE Emergency Team in Japan

March 23, 2011

A Blizzard in the Disaster Zone: Blog from the CARE emergency team in Northern Japan image 1

“Today we have arrived in Northern Japan. We flew from Tokyo, Japan”s capital city, to Aomori and then drove down to the city of Morioka in the Iwate prefecture. It is freezing here, like a blizzard. There is one meter of snow and it is really, really cold. My Canadian colleague Alain said to me:’ I feel like we are in Canada!’ We have heard that there are Japanese who have lost their homes but who have not sought shelter in the collective centres. I don”t want to imagine how it must be for those who live in their destroyed houses, without windows, without any electricity, without heating. At the moment, the elements are clearly not in favour for Japan.

Morioka looks like a normal modern city in a rich developed country. It is unbelievable that just a few kilometres from here such massive destruction from the earthquake and the tsunami took place almost two weeks ago. After we have arrived we went to the Disaster Prevention Centre. People were buzzing around, doing all kinds of coordination, managing the emergency response. It looked like a command centre, and we also saw many Japanese military walking through the halls. Search and rescue teams were there; one person was wearing a T-Shirt that read “Christchurch New Zealand’. He must have come straight from New Zealand, where another earthquake struck the country just a few weeks ago.

At the Disaster Prevention Centre we met with local authorities and got a voucher for fuel. Getting fuel is still an enormous challenge. On the way, we passed by a line at the gas station that stretched for many kilometres. It went over a bridge and up a hill and it was so long, we could not even see the end of it. Since CARE is involved in the emergency response, we were entitled to receive one tank of fuel and whenever we need more, we have to go back to the centre, which is open for 24 hours every day. I sincerely hope that the fuel will last long enough to bring us to the coast and back tomorrow!

After receiving our fuel, we went to the Volunteer Coordination Centre and talked to the staff for quite a while. It was our aim to get a sense of the challenges for the emergency response and to find out how CARE can fill the gaps. In coordinating with other organizations and the local authorities we will ensure not to duplicate any efforts and only assist in those areas where the Japanese emergency response is stretched and simply needs our help. We learned that many areas are indeed now accessible. But we also learned that some local authorities are wiped out, they basically don”t exist any longer. And even though Japan has great emergency response measures in place a disaster like this would overwhelm any government. This is a very tough situation.

In the same building where the volunteer centre is located a couple of hundred survivors of the disaster have found shelters. I just peeked into the room but saw people sleeping on thin mattresses placed on the floor. In the lobby, some kids were playing soccer. We heard people in some centres may not be receiving adequate hot meals, or nutritious meals. Tomorrow, we will visit some more of these collective centres in Yamada and Otsuchi, two affected cities along the coast. There we will find out what people need and how CARE can help the Japanese emergency effort to ensure that no survivor is left out.’