On March 11, 2011, the day of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan, Hideaki Nakagawa was being interviewed for a role at World Vision. Now an employee, he was a team leader for the meal preparation spaces established at evacuation centers for the disaster’s survivors. Here, he shares his thoughts and memories regarding the emergency response efforts of one year ago.
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What I experienced on the afternoon of March 11, 2011, and in the days that followed, vividly come to mind as I write this — images of young students crying, while clinging to each other on the shaking patio of the World Vision office in downtown Tokyo; scenes of television news footage that showed houses on fire being hauled away by a massive ocean tide.
It has now been a year since the earth shook tremendously and the ocean roared horribly, changing the course of many lives, including my own. The earthquake is believed to be among the most powerful in Japanese history. It triggered strong tsunami waves that claimed tens of thousands of lives and washed away buildings and structures along the Pacific coast in the Tohoku region of Japan. When the disaster struck, I was being interviewed by World Vision’s Japan office. I was to be assigned to the humanitarian emergency affairs Unit, and I was immediately deployed to the relief operation in Tohoku.
My responsibilities included provision of meal assistance for survivors. World Vision worked with local authorities and other organizations to feed evacuees in the affected areas. The feeding service continued until the closure of the evacuation centers, at which point people gradually moved to temporary housing provided by the government.
As the government could provide unfurnished housing only, World Vision assisted the residents, in partnership with Red Cross and other organizations, with basic furnishings, including bedding and kitchen utensils.
Sometimes I find it awkward to discuss my experiences in Tohoku — especially in Tokyo, where most of the news about the disaster is now focused on recovery. The people I met in the evacuation centers have lost their homes, and, in many cases, livelihoods. They have now all moved to temporary housing, where they could stay for two years as prescribed by Japanese law.
The need to extend the duration of their stay, however, has already been considered. For many of them, two years will probably be too short to make all necessary arrangements to be self-sufficient again. The process of recovery will then be a long one, but people in Tohoku are known for their reserved characters and tenacious efforts. I have learned that this through my experiences of working with them.
Even with the recovery process, some things will not be the same as before — but many things will be better, as the affected cities implement their rehabilitation plans with participation of local children. This is an ongoing process that World Vision is supporting.
Through my experience of working in the community kitchen and serving the evacuees in the city of Kesennuma, I became friends with two cooks. Each of them had owned an eatery in the port area, and lost it to the tsunami. One of them worked hard to repair the damaged building and reopened his restaurant last month. The other one has found a suitable place in another part of town and is working hard on reopening his. I plan to visit their new restaurants in a couple of months, and I sense that it will be the first one of many visits to the area in the coming years.
I hope that I will also be able to observe the quiet persistence pay off in the recovery process of the people of the Tohoku region — however long that may take.
Read our coverage of the March 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami on the World Vision Blog. Also, read an article for more information on World Vision’s relief and recovery accomplishments in Japan during the past year.
Thanks to an incredible outpouring of support and generosity by our donors, World Vision was able to meet — and surpass — our funding needs for a three-year Japan relief and recovery response. However, you can make a donation to our Disaster Response Fund, which equips World Vision to respond quickly and effectively to similar sudden-onset emergencies as they occur around the world.