The Operation Tomodachi

Since the M9.0 earthquake and the towering waves of tsunamis left North-East Japan in devastation, so many countries offered us help, including those which I'd imagine could ill afford to do so: in fact, 132 nations and regions, and 34 international institutions to this day. After the crisis broke out at Fukushima No.1 Nuclear Plant, some nations - most noticeably the USA and South Korea, among others - promptly came to our rescue again. It was uplifting, to say the least, to know that the world cared about us, about the tragedy that befell those families who were torn asunder by the awesome natural disaster.

I will never forget how much relief I felt in hearing the news that South Korea was on its way to Japan, immediately after the disaster struck us. How much strength the international aid gave us. Most of all, America has proven to be our staunch ally.

The US took to the task of rescuing Japan full-scale; it was named "The Operation Tomodachi." When I heard the news, I couldn't help smiling at the slight cheesiness of it, but at the same time, nothing was more moving, and reassuring. Approximately 13,000 personnel are mobilised for this operation.

The US Air Force has been transporting relief goods such as food and clothes from the US Kadena airfield in Okinawa, and has been flying unmanned recon planes over the Fukushima No.1 Nuclear Power Plant.

The US Army has sent medical and engineering teams, and has been engaged in the restoration of the airport in Sendai.

The US Marine Corps has been transporting relief goods to the affected areas from the super carrier acting as a relief centre.

The nuclear powered super carrier Ronald Reagan, with its fleet of 20 warships, had been on its way to military maneuver with South Korea, but changed its course on hearing about the news from Japan. It positioned itself 50km off the coast of Sanriku, and has been acting as an impromptu maritime base for rescue efforts since 13 March, only two days after the disaster struck Japan.

As the roads were severed in the coastal areas in Iwate and Miyagi by the tsunamis, the US rescue teams send relief goods from the temporary maritime base by helicopters. They spot shelters cut off from roads from above. They discovered 17 such isolated shelters in one day alone. In the news coverage, I saw old women bowing their heads deeply, holding the American soldier's hands, wordlessly thanking him. They have delivered 230tons of relief goods.

As a nuclear powered super carrier, Ronald Reagan is uniquely equipped with radiation monitoring equipments. Although the carrier is positioned 90km away from the Fukushima No.1 Nuclear Power Plant, they take meticulous precautions against any possibility of exposure to radiation. They carefully monitor the radiation levels of personnel, check the wind directions, and provide pilots with iodine preparations against contingency. If the radiation level should go up, they would move the carrier to a different spot and continue with their rescue operation.

The US is fully engaged in the operations to pump fresh water into the reactors, sending two large vessels that can contain 1,100tons each. The US government also offered that it was ready to send a nuclear specialist troop of 450 men, on the Japanese government's request.

This shan't be forgotten in a hurry, how much our big tomodachi has been doing for us; indeed, how much our tomodachis both within Japan and abroad have been doing for us.

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East Japan Earthquake - Evacuees' situation - 17 March 2011

Some supply routes have been secured, and supplies have started arriving in the afflicted areas. Japan Ground Self Defense Force has sent 280 personnel and 100 vehicles to send supplies to evacuees. Also, the government has secured 300 tanker lorries from the western parts of Japan, to send fuel to the afflicted areas. People from all over the world have started sending supplies to Japan. South Korea has decided to provide Japan with gasoline preferentially.

Some evacuees, however, have already died from sheer cold (and hunger, fatigue, illness, etc). Elderly people are under serious threat. Many "shelters" (mere schools and halls; any big place really) are coming to their ends of supplies (food, water, petrol, kerosene). Here is a summary of what I've seen on the news (NHK news).

In Iwate, even those who are trying to send medical supplies to the area must get permit from the local municipality to receive petrol, as five petrol stations within Iwate that are set aside for emergency vehicles are running out of petrol.

In the badly stricken Rikuzen Takada, at least one shelter is coming to its end of kerosene. An old man told the media that they didn't have any more kerosene left after tonight. He said, "Though it's cold in the morning. Well, it just cannot be had, so nothing we can do about it," and smiled.

A private tour company started transporting patients to several hospitals for free. As the company is running low on petrol, the driver wasn't sure if they could provide the service again tomorrow, but he said they'll continue it as long as petrol lasts.

Evacuees are still trying to find their family members in other shelters. As there's hardly any petrol left, however, this is very difficult. I saw a woman cycling from shelter to shelter, looking for her parents. A few days ago, I saw a man cycling around, looking for his wife. He covered his back wheel with a piece of paper with her name written on it, and he carries his wife's photos to show people.

Yesterday (Wed, 16), I saw a girl, taking shelter in (possibly her own) primary school with her friends. They looked all very cheerful, as only primary school children can be. The girl said, "I don't know where my parents are yet, but they must be in other shelters," with such implicit faith, so matter-of-factly, without any trace of doubt.

There are many isolated shelters, completely cut off. An old people's home, whose residents are mostly elderly people with dementia, is one such example. As so many others in the Northern Japan, this place was hit by tsunami; however, there was no casualty, not even one of all 100 residents. This is because the 50 staff members carried all 100 of them upstairs, just as they practiced in their regular tsunami drills. Most residents are not mobile, so sometimes it took four staff members to carry them in heavy wheelchairs upstairs. They finished moving everyone upstairs five minutes before the tsunami struck them. Mercifully, it didn't reach the second floor, unlike in so many other places.

They were urged to evacuate to other shelters, but the staff refused to go, as it was not likely that they could find any shelter that would accept their residents, who need special care, and as they thought their charge wouldn't be able to survive in any other place. The staff managed to procure some supplies. The power is down, so they use a power generator. As they are very low on the fuel, however, they turn it off, save four hours when they cook food for all of them.

A dairy farmer in Aomori says he's very much afraid that people may leave off farming if the situation goes on much longer. He continues to milk his cows dutifully, since they will become ill otherwise. After discussing the matter with his friends, he decided to spray the milk in the field as fertiliser. He is wishing to deliver his fresh milk to evacuees.

I've seen some people shedding tears, telling us how they have no food, blankets, or medicine. I saw one old woman tell us she was concerned about her eye drops, as she'd go blind unless she has them. Isolated evacuees may be suffering even more than those in shelters, although these "shelters" offer hardly any comfort against the bitter cold winter of the northern Japan. They are mostly sleeping on hard floor with hardly anything but blankets, and a stove or two if they're fortunate enough to have both stoves and fuel. They have very insufficient information, and not knowing what is happening must be extremely trying for the already tragedy-stricken evacuees.

Finally, life goes on even in midst of all this; new lives are brought into this world. I saw a new mum, telling us about her labour in complete darkness (electricity was down). She said he'd be a strong boy, coming to life at a time like this. Her glowing smile was so radiant.

These mothers need food, however. Nursing mothers need to eat. And new-born babies cannot survive harsh winter without any heating.

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