2:46 p.m. Friday, March 11, 2011. The ground beneath the feet of those in cities along the northeast coast of Japan begins a nearly-imperceptible rumble. This is not a new sensation; the country has a long history of earthquake activity, including a 7.3 magnitude quake just two days before that caused no damage. Japan is located on an arc of volcanic zones in an area of the Pacific where, historically, most of the world’s quakes have occurred. The threat is ever-present, but life must continue; fear cannot rule the day. Little does anyone realize on that most ordinary Friday afternoon, an earthquake of epic proportions is rupturing 6 miles under the ocean, about 80 miles off Japan’s Pacific Coast. At 8.9 on the Richter scale, it will be the most powerful quake ever to hit the country, and one of the five most powerful in recorded history. The quake is so tremendous that — once over — it will have moved Japan’s largest island of Honshu a full 8 feet east on the world globe. It will also shift the earth on its axis between 1 to 10 inches. Within minutes, the Great Tohoku Earthquake, as it is officially referred to today, ruptures into a massive tsunami with waves reaching unfathomable heights of 133 feet in some areas. When the monster wall of ocean water moves in and crashes the shoreline, the surge extends as much as 6 miles inland before retreating. The water swallows homes, buildings, vehicles, highways, bridges, and people in its path. No living thing can outrun waves of this dimension, speed and power; 95% of the reported 15,800* or so deaths from this series of natural disasters on March 11 are due to this tsunami.
Hours pass as disoriented survivors experience violent aftershocks, many of them delivering a 6.0 magnitude punch. In the days to come, damaged nuclear power plants threaten meltdowns and radio active leakages, causing the evacuation of thousands. Nearly 3,300 hundred people are missing and 6,000 are injured, but no agency can accurately declare the human toll at this point. Water, food, and farmlands are contaminated, power is out, transportation grinds to a halt, and fires break out in the coastal cities and villages. Chaos abounds, and broken communication channels prohibit connecting to family members, friends and co-workers. Editor/Journalist David Hayes writes, (It is) “a reality almost beyond comprehension.”
*Survivors across northern Japan say the death toll is much higher than the official figures reflect. Government officials say their first priority is to care for the living, and that “only a nationwide census will determine the final numbers.”
Pilots Respond to the Disaster
In the early morning hours of March 12, then-Pilot President Susan Hoffmann in Kansas, and Pilot Executive Director Peggy Davidson at PI Headquarters in Macon, Georgia connect by phone and attempt in vain to contact Kikuko Kubo, Pilot International’s long-time language interpreter and Japan liaison. As much as the two can determine from maps and conflicting news reports, several of the 40 Pilot Clubs in Japan are in the direct path of the tsunami including Ichinoseki and Morioka. Later, it is evident that Fukushima and Sendai will most certainly be affected by radiation leakages from damaged nuclear power plants.
President Susan contacts other members of the Pilot Executive Committee and a decision is made to request emergency donations for Japan. The PIF Relief Fund will be used for this purpose. District Governors and Clubs are notified, and contributions begin streaming in from Pilots, clubs and districts. The phone lines at Pilot Headquarters ring continually, and a Facebook page is launched to communicate updates online. When translator Kiku Kube’s email reaches PI Headquarters the next day, she reports that former Japan District Governor Keiko Mori cannot reach current District Governor Kikue Uehara of Takasaki (in central Japan) and is making desperate attempts to contact the coastal clubs to determine the well-being of Pilots there. However, with all electrical power and cell towers out even in non-affected areas, it will take several excruciating days to gather credible information. Eventually, the two Governors connect, and a report is pieced together and communicated across the Pilot world: the most directly-affected area is in the Miyagi Prefecture (state), where the Pilot Club of Morioka is located. Although no Pilot or any of their immediate family members have been killed, Sendai Pilot, Hiromi Kizawa, has lost her entire business, the office and factory totally destroyed by the tsunami.
The Japan DAC continues to work around-the-clock to gather accurate information about the true state of their Pilot Clubs. When it was safe to travel, Governor Kikue Uehara and Past Governor [Keiko Mori] visit the coastal clubs and determine how best to disburse the 1 million yen (US$13,000) donated over a two-month period. A decision is made by both the past and current DAC to cancel the forthcoming Japan District Convention and refund registration fees, but plans are laid to install the 2011-12 Japan DAC officers, coordinators and club presidents at the Pilot International Convention in Dallas in July, with President Susan Hoffman, other Pilot leaders, and guests in attendance.
“We all wanted to gather in one place to confirm our bonds, help one another, and to celebrate living through the disaster,” said Governor Kikue. “We strongly felt the Pilot bond, encouragement, and warm hearts of our international friends. Sharing Pilot friendship is a most grateful experience.”
One Month Later: the Miyagi Earthquake
A month after the Great Tohoku Earthquake, an aftershock with a magnitude of 7.1 with an epicenter off the coast of the Miyagi Prefecture (41 miles east of Sendai) occurred. A tsunami warning was issued, but was cancelled after 90 minutes. The quake killed four people and injured 141 others. More than 3 million households in the area were left without power, and several nuclear plants suffered minor damage. No major structural damage occurred.
“Praying for a Quick and Correct Revival”
Today in Japan, citizens in the affected areas plan reconstruction under a 2-3 year plan. Rebuilding roads, bridges, public facilities and other infrastructure in the cities and towns affected is the main focus. Governor KiKue Uehara reports that many citizens who survived the disaster — both Pilots and non-Pilots — are volunteering their services and offering moral and monetary support to others.
“We are praying daily for a quick and correct revival,” she reports.
According to Governor Uehara, no Japan club has reported disbanding to date, nor have any Pilot members resigned due to the traumatic events of March 11, 2011. Japan Pilot Clubs continue to make contributions through their local community agency of city offices, and several clubs like the Pilot Club of Morioka have appointed special committees to head up support programs on an ongoing basis.
Interpreter Kiku Kubo says, “Japanese people do not talk much about their own sorrow. I think it is the culture to hide our own sorrows and not let others worry about you.”
In July, a contingent of Japan Pilots visited Pilot International Headquarters in Macon, Georgia, before heading west to the International Convention in Dallas. The warmth and graciousness so characteristic of Japan Pilots was clearly manifest in the delight they expressed that afternoon as they toured the Heritage Center and Gardens. Despite the upheaval and dramatic losses they had experienced in their own country only months prior to the visit, the joyous group presented a generous contribution to the Pilot International Foundation before departing.
District Governor Uehara later wrote: “The events of 3/11 made us feel we need to belong to an organization like Pilot that makes us feel connected and not alone. We are learning the importance of helping one another, and we appreciate our Pilot bonds.”
“We strongly felt the Pilot bond, encouragement, and warm hearts of our international friends.”
–Japan District Governor Kikue Uehara
One year after the Great Tohoku Earthquake, the Pilot Clubs of Japan continue their volunteer activities with spirit and enthusiasm: a contingent attended the PI Convention in Dallas in July; many participated in the PI Brain Power Walk in October; and even more continue to be active in PI, club, and district projects. Four Japan Clubs have applied for matching PIF grants.
Below is a recap of some of the rehabilitative projects undertaken by the four clubs located in areas that were most severely affected. Money from PI’s Japan Disaster Relief Fund, in addition to funds raised by the Japan Clubs themselves, was used for emergency relief and rebuilding projects. The Japan District Administrative Council (DAC) requested that the four Pilot Clubs located in areas where the need was greatest assess and decide themselves how to distribute funds.
Pilot Club of Sendai
Gave funds to replace equipment destroyed by the tsunami used by a nursing care facility in Tanpopo;
Provided money for text books and teaching materials for three junior high schools destroyed in Ofunato City. These students are now attending classes held in an elementary school building, but are “very positive, active and brave” despite the trauma and subsequent hardship
In Iwanuma, helped with funding to rebuild a damaged church building whose walls and ceilings had collapsed
In the Shibata area of Miyagi Perfecture, assisted the Harakara-kai, a group facility that teaches employment skills to people with disabilities of all types and severities, helping them become more independent. Although the facility was not damaged in the quake and tsunami, Sendai Pilots subsidized a much-needed administrative grant that had been cut in half after the events of March 11.
The club also gave funds to another shelter/workshop for people with disabilities; an emergency, mobile kitchen in Shiokama City; for expenses to help a Tokyo counselor travel and work with traumatized people in Sendai; and to Dr. Kamata (known as the “Red Beard doctor”), a beloved, local physician in the Utatsu District who provides on-site medical care, and uses a bicycle for transport
Pilot Club of Fukushima
The Fukushima Prefecture extends from the Pacific Ocean to the Japan Sea. Due to 3/11/11 damages, the prefecture is now divided into three parts, with many people still residing in the “Naka Dori,” the Pacific Ocean side that is still perilous. Kiku Kubo reports that the problems cause by radiation in Fukushima will take from 20-30 years to be resolved. “Farmers are not able to sell their crops. Even the grass from Fukushima purchased to feed cows and pigs in other areas was contaminated. The animals had to be killed.”
Fukushima Pilots provided emergency funds for several facilities, workshops, and care centers for people with disabilities that were closed by the radiation leakage at the nuclear power plant. Among these entities are the Fukushima Welfare Workshop and Communication Council; and Tsudoi, a social welfare corporation for people with mental disabilities.
Pilot Club of Akita
Akita Pilots concentrated their support to help the Yamada Kyosei Workshop for people with disabilities. The first purchased food for the emergency kitchen and gave expense money to volunteers offering their skills to the victims in stricken areas.
In early July, Akita Pilots held the first in a series of social gatherings for the Fukushima people – both Akita citizens, and those staying at designated evacuation site in Akita. Another was held at the end of September, and another in January. These joyous events went far to boost the morale of those misplaced and traumatized by the events of March 11. Photos from the event depict happiness and victory. The club will continue these celebrations of life and gratefulness, with a charity concert planned on the club’s 20th anniversary date, March 3. Net proceeds will be donated to facilities in the quake zone that serve people with brain-related disorders.
Nine months after the quake, Morioka Pilots knew the forthcoming winter, predicted to be severe, would cause even more hardships for the displaced citizens in the city of Rikuzen Takata, who were just beginning to clear their way out of the heaps of rubble and debris left by the tsunami. As many as 600 homes and many other buildings were destroyed, and residents, especially those from Takekoma, sought shelter in temporary housing. Morioka Pilots purchased sixty-two 6-sq. ft., electric “hot carpets” for Takinosato shelter homes in Rikuzen Takata. The club chartered a bus and delivered these much-needed carpets on Christmas Day. A presentation ceremony was held, and the media was on hand to cover the story.