Response planned to Japan disaster

Disaster response organizations mobilize to help survivors of massive earthquake and tsunami

BY JOHN PAPE | BALTIMORE | March 13, 2011


Residents of Naval Air Facility in Atsugi, Japan, collect food, water, and relief supplies to support earthquake and tsunami relief operations in Japan.
Credit: USN/Ben Farone

More than 1,000 people are feared dead following a massive 8.9 magnitude earthquake that struck Japan’s northeastern coast Friday morning.

The epicenter was just east of Honshu, Japan’s most populous island.

The quake, the largest ever recorded in Japan, also triggered a devastating tsunami, sweeping away homes, cars, boats and people. The towering wall of water was reported to have been more than 30 feet high in some areas with waves that pushed ashore as far as six miles inland.

Even as rescue efforts continued, a host of faith-based organizations began mobilizing to provide assistance. Within hours after the quake hit, such groups as the Disciples of Christ, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, ACT Alliance, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, the Jewish Federations of North America, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and others announced plans to provide aid.

The Disciples of Christ said its Week of Compassion outreach immediately provided an emergency response grant through its primary Japanese partner, the United Church of Christ in Japan. Relief officials were continuing to monitor the situation, including regional ministers in Hawaii and along the West Coast, should those areas see damage from the quake-generated tsunami.

The Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC) said it was making arrangements with partners in Japan to provide funds for immediate aid to survivors. CRWRC said it will be responding with its partners including Back to God Ministries International, Christian Reformed World Missions, the ACT Alliance and others.

The Reformed Church in America, International Ministries of the American Baptist Church and the Christian Reformed Church were among other faith-based organizations reporting that missionaries and pastors in Japan were all reported to be safe.

Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches called upon churches to pray for the people of Japan. "We express our deepest sympathy and pray for all victims, for their families and for all who now live in fear of further aftershocks, some of which are as strong as many earthquakes,” Tveit said. “We pray for those who have lost or cannot find their dear ones, for those who have lost their homes or face the impact of this enormous destruction."

He also called for support of those responding. "For all those who are ready to help the victims, let us help and support in any way we can, and give priority to those who are most vulnerable in this situation. We trust churches around the world will show their solidarity."

The Presbyterian Church (USA) has numerous missions in Japan and officials were in the process of contacting local churches, mission workers and partners to ensure their safety and assess their need for aid. The church received one reassuring message from the Yodogawa Christian Hospital in Osaka.

“Thank you so very much for your kind words and prayers. Thankfully, our hospital patients and staff and their families are all safe, but our heart aches as the earthquake disasters are spreading in other parts of Japan,” the message read. “We are praying for God’s protection and comfort over those people in the earthquake affected areas. He is our refuge and fortress.”

John Nduna, executive of the ACT Alliance, said his organization was concerned about some of the less-developed and more exposed Pacific islands.

“We are deeply concerned about the most vulnerable countries and their people, and we are monitoring the situation closely so that ACT Alliance can direct its resources to where they are most needed, as quickly as possible,” Nduna said.

ACT Alliance is a Geneva-based coalition of 111 churches and church-related organizations that work together to provide humanitarian assistance.

The United Methodist Church issued a church-wide appeal for donations to help in response efforts. Its disaster response organization, The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) was planning its response. “We’re in contact with our partners in the region, mindful of the still developing emergency in Japan as well as of the risk to other countries, such as Indonesia and the Philippines, and to Hawaii, which are expected to be impacted by the tsunami,” said Melissa Crutchfield, UMCOR executive for International Disaster Response.

Rick Santos, president and CEO of IMA World Health said his organization is mobilizing to distribute medical supplies with help of partners on the ground. “In the midst of disaster, even basic medical supplies can be difficult for victims to obtain,” he said in a letter posted on the IMA Website.

The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) also reported it was responding, coordinating efforts and assessing the needs in some of the worst hit areas in the northern region of Japan. ADRA committed an initial response of $25,000 and sent an assessment team to evaluate and prepare a broader response.

Additionally, ADRA Japan was providing food and shelter for train passengers stranded in Tokyo. The assistance was being provided at the Central Tokyo Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

The Jewish Federations of North America opened an emergency relief fund to provide aid and support to the quake and tsunami victims. The Jewish Federations also said they would continue to closely monitor the situation as details emerge.

"The Jewish Federations send our deepest sympathy to people affected by this terrible event," said Fred Zimmerman, chair of The Jewish Federations of North America's Emergency Committee. "We are determined to provide emergency relief as quickly as possible and to work with our partners to provide support over the longer term as well."

Rev. Daniel Rift, director of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s World Hunger and Disaster Appeal, issued a statement saying his organization was monitoring the situation and preparing a response. He also reported all 22 ELCA missionaries in Japan had reported they and their families were safe and well.

“The Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church has a rich tradition of education and service to those who are in need, and we will continue to walk alongside our companions in ministry as they respond to the disaster,” Rift said in the statement.

Other charities that announced immediate efforts to provide assistance to Japan included AmeriCares, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Save the Children, Doctors Without Borders, Convoy of Hope, Shelter Box and the International Medical Corps.

In addition to faith-based and nonprofit disaster response agencies, the United States Navy immediately sent the USS Ronald Reagan battle group to provide aid to the stricken nation. Additionally, all ships in the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet were placed on standby to provide additional assistance.

Videos broadcast from Japan in the hours immediately following the quake showed scene after scene of devastation. The airport in Sendai, close to the quake’s epicenter, was literally swamped by the tsunami.

Aerial images of the northern Japanese city of Kessenuma showed virtually the entire city of 70,000 people in flames.

Much of the nation’s transportation system was knocked out of service, making rescue efforts difficult since most of the nation accessible only by helicopter. Four trains were reported missing and at least one was reported to have been literally swept away by tsunami waters.

Within the first 12 hours following the initial shock, at least 109 aftershocks had been recorded, including one that registered 7.1 on the Richter scale.

Japan Prime Minister Naoto Kan mobilized the Japanese Defense Forces to assist with rescue and recovery efforts and pledged to use all available resources of the government to help stricken areas.

“Our government will make all-out efforts to minimize the damage caused by the earthquake,” news agency Xinhua quoted Kan as saying.

The government also set up a task force to deal with the quake’s aftermath.

Among the 38,000 U.S. military personnel, 43,000 dependents and 5,000 Department of Defense civilians assigned to Japan, there were no immediate reports of loss of life. Additionally, there were no reports of major damage to U.S. warships, aircraft or facilities in Japan, according to Pentagon spokesman Col. David Lapan.

Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs said a 24-hour consular task force had been set up to assist Americans affected by the earthquake.


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