One year has passed since catastrophic scenes of destruction in northeast Japan shocked the world. A 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck 120 kilometres off the northeastern coast, triggering a massive tsunami that caused severe damage to the three districts of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima.
Reports showed cars, ships and buildings being swept away with waves of up to ten metres high slamming into the coast. Fires raged out of control and fissures cracked the land. Almost 15,900 people lost their lives and at least 500,000 people were made homeless by the disaster.
Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan described it as the worst crisis the country had faced since World War Two: ‘This earthquake and tsunami and also the situation concerning the nuclear power stations are perhaps the hardest hardship that we have experienced after World War Two.’
A ShelterBox Response Team (SRT) was mobilised just over one hour after the disaster struck. Further teams were also on standby in case the tsunami hit other countries.
Within 24 hours
Within 24 hours
Within 24 hours, the hugely experienced SRT members Lasse Petersen (AU), Mark Pearson (UK), John Diksa (FR) and David Eby (US), were on the ground. They immediately began working with the local authorities to assess the areas of most need for disaster relief.
‘We were faced with a unique set of circumstances dealing with the effects of an earthquake, a tsunami and then a potential nuclear incident in the cold Japanese winter,’ said Lasse. ‘Our efforts focussed on Japan’s north where the worst affected areas were.’
Sendai was one of the largest cities struck by the tsunami. Evacuation centres in the area were spilling over. In Yamamoto, a town near Sendai, SRT members Ian Neal (UK) and Mark Dyer (US) found 30 families living in cars outside one centre that was full. They had lost everything when the tsunami hit and they had been living in their cars in the freezing weather. ShelterBoxes were delivered to the families restoring their dignity as they began to rebuild their lives.
One of the people to move into a ShelterBox tent with eight of his relatives was 80-year old Toshi Iche Iwasa. He had been living in his vehicle with two other family members. At the time of the disaster, he was picking strawberries at a small family farm:
‘In the 80 years of my life I have experienced many earthquakes but nothing like this one. I fell to the ground to take cover but couldn’t pick myself up again. My wife was only able to crawl across to me.
‘As soon as we heard the tsunami warning we headed straight to our car and drove for higher ground. Although our homes were completely destroyed I feel lucky that we are all safe and together.’
Mark Dyer said: ‘It was great to move Mr Iwasa and his family into one of our tents. He was so excited to talk to his family and let them know they could start living together.
‘He was amazed that donors from all over the world work with ShelterBox to bring this type of lifesaving equipment to people who lose everything in a disaster. He just kept saying Arigato (thank you) ShelterBox.’
ShelterBox Founder and CEO Tom Henderson said: ‘My message to people has always been; do something, don’t do nothing, we can all make a difference. As with every disaster, we saw people around the world act with generosity and compassion which helped us make a difference in Japan and in disaster zones across the globe – thank you.’
Local Rotarians and authorities provided vital logistical support to ShelterBox, enabling the charity to respond quickly and efficiently. Overall 1,680 ShelterBoxes were delivered to the Asian country and 18 SRT members were deployed, bringing shelter, warmth and dignity to thousands of displaced people.
SRT member Pat Prendergast (UK) was part of the second team that was on the ground. Find out more about his experiences in the video below.