Action Report on ‘Coalition Relief Effort’ to Sendai,Ishinomaki & surrounding quake-ravaged areas in Japan–written by Chris Bosquillon

courtesy of Adelaide Now
Japan's Great Quake of 3.11.2011 registers on seismometer
Photo courtesy of The Australian
Dramatic wreckage from Japan's 'Big One' of 3.11.2011

Please find hereafter a brief post-action report for“Operation Transporter” at Ishinomaki north of Sendai.

Initiative: 1 Japanese Tetsu Kishaba, originally from Okinawa, owner of “Transporter Tokyo” , former member of the Japanese Self-Defence Force and the french Foreign Legion, tri-lingual J-E-F, and 2 French businessmen, long term residents of Tokyo, Jean Barthelemy (60), provider  of a large quantity of warm and comfortable Rossignol ski & outdoor gear, and Christophe Bosquillon (48) who just went on site at Ishinomaki north of Sendai tsunami area, together with Tetsu Kishaba.

– in addition, support by American relief specialist Tim Peters of Helping Hands Korea, and German emergency and relief doctor Norbert Vollertsen, together with a large network of Japanese and international friends, was instrumental in pulling this off.

– cargo: gasoline, heating fuel, blankets, Rossignol outdoor gear, other warm clothes, food supplies, water and juice, powder milk for children, medecine for cold, petfood for dogs (sorry cats), based on donation by Jean Barthelemy / Rossignol and private donations from the organizers and their friends, completed by purchasing of medecine, food and drink supplies, themselves under drastic rationing in Tokyo stores, including water and powder milk for children.

– action in situ: coastal agglomeration of Ishinomaki north of Sendai. Tetsu Kishiba early the previous week, right after the tsuami, had already made a recon by fire of the coast up to Sendai and some north, however proceeding through the coastal road which leads to the Fukushima nuclear plant. This route being difficult and requiring a large detour around Fukushima area, it was decided to proceed differently this time.

– departure Tokyo on Sunday(March 20th)  early afternoon, cargo completion in Chiba, then on through Tohoku Expressway, followed by Road No4, speeding through Fukushima-city which is located about 60km west from the nuclear plant, north of Fukushima prefecture, then Sendai in Miyagi prefecture, arrival Ishinomaki around 2am night sunday to monday, sleeping outdoor cold bearable and too late to disturb people at shelters.

– first observation on arrival and the next day by sunlight: compared with one week earlier,the japanese self-defence force SDF has done an outstanding job of cleaning up all arteries from tsunami debris, and repair it wherever required by earthquake cracks.

– second observation:people sleep in shelters , mostly schools, not outside in front of schools.

– rising at 6am, discussing with survivors in the neighborhood, departure at 7am, visiting 3 shelters / centers located in schools, managed by the local community, showing 3 different situations: 1 shelter only populated with senior citizens, satisfied to be well supplied by the SDF, 1 scarcely populated with only a few women and children, visibly shocked but laughing at times, and 1 bigger , more mixed, in the process of being checked by the Red Cross while we were there, and also offering supplies not only to its resident but to people able to return to their nearby barely standing homes, with one small cardbox of supplies for each. There was a brief outpour of emotion and thanks to us from several of them.

– visit to the CityHall and local authorities, very much focused on the tsunami impact map by districts, and the grueling effort of researching and reconnecting survivors through volunteers and a large number of hand-written registers containing messages to anyone else who might have survived or have an information. Some volunteers taking the pain to upload a picture of the missing on their cell phones, for just in case they recognize a face. Then also the city hall a bit under staffed and struggling to organize supplies distribution work and organize and manage the large number of volunteers available to  perform debris removal and cleaning once the SDF has performed the heavy lifting.

– visit to the logistic and dispatch center of the SDF, clearly the hub of all relief operations, with deployment of all helicopters, trucks, jeeps, and duty vehicles, and several hundred troops, on an extremely large area in elevation and thus not inundated. Professional and friendly welcome and guidance, and help in dispatching and organizing the goods per categories and priority lift. The food, water and medecine supplies were lifted as we brought them, and for clothes the turnover is a matter of 2-3 days max in line with the emergency.

– it was heartening to see a doctor for children coming very axious on site, and then relieved when he could immediately take out powder milk, other supplies for children, and some cold medecine, all in high demand. The children need all the help they can get, absolutely.

– we also found out that shelters at schools prefer to remain in the cold, rather than incurring any fire hazard by loading our 60 liter barrel of heating fuel or any other large fuel supply. Go figure.

– and the self defence force SDF would not at all handle heating fuel depots either … for obvious risk of explosion of massive proportion.

– however after the SDF logistics visit, we found a small community of non-sheltered survivors, by keeping driving north to the risk of not enough gazoline back to Tokyo, because we knew that somewhere, there was somebody who needed that heating fuel, and we just could not go back to Tokyo before we would find that person, and help one life.

-that community was centered around the boss of a local fishery who had evacuated his employee as soon as the earthquake struck, and save all their lives. But he remained behind and barely survived the tsunami 30mn later in then out of his car clinging to a metallic pole. He share that fate with the people of a Yanmar truck and boat engines service center. His mother is still missing, he lost everything including 1 billion yen (12 million US$) fishery equipment and goods value. His name is Masatoshi Chiba, and he is a good man. So we scavenged for empty jerrycans and we split the 60 liter baril in several 10  and 20 liters lots for him and his neighbors. Then we gave him all our food and water reserves planned for a longer trip, plus some. When the cold strikes again tomorrow, they will manage.

– on a general note, the food and water supplies are now reaching this area more or less well, but heating fuel remains a challenge, plus cold and other medecines, powder milk and supplies for children, also considering that many hospitals first 2 or 3 floors, have been flooded with equipment, medecine, and paper records of patients destroyed. This whole coastal area is flat with also some cuvette, hence not so many opportunities to build hospitals on altitudes higher than say 30 meters.

– so around Ishinomaki which was in really bad shape one week earlier, things are getting organized, but  the same or worse exercise has to be duplicated all the way north of Sendai.

– there is still a need to clean up many roads up north of Sendai, on the most devastated areas, and establish some mid size refueling depots, many of them rather than a few big ones where everyone queue for hours. Otherwise it is impossible to fully deploy on coastal area either from the south (Tokyo), the west (Niigata) or the north (Akita and Morioka).

– the problem of gasoline is an absolute priority to solve in order to be able to fully deploy within the coastal tsunami area.

– one of the center had directed us towards a local area (Hanto) further north and badly hit, and expressly requiring our cargo, but it was simply impossible to go there without remaining stuck in area without gas with no alternative way out.

Conclusion: 3 approaches completing each others seem to make sense: to supply the quite efficient SDF logistic and dispatch centers, to visit specific shelters centers (mostly schools) for specific needs including children, and also to pay attention to the non-sheltered survivors in the ruins of their factories and houses, to keep them in the loop of supplies. And anyone is free to visit the SDF dispatch and take supplies upon explaining their situations without too many complications and based on local trust. Tohoku people are modest and never complaining since to proud to admit they are in need. But they are.

NOTE TO NV: Norbert, this in particular implies the doctors, medecines and equipment. Doctors come on the SDF supply site with anxiety, happy if they get something, more anxious otherwise. There is a need to make sure the SDF supply machine is fine tuned to the needs of doctors, nurses, and these they served, starting with children. We understand Doctor Without Borders has started such an assessment with 10 teams for the entire region. But also there ae not enough doctors and nurses obviously for all levels of emergency.

Also, CityHalls and local authorities need to get organized to make full use of volunteers available for both distributions and debris clening.

The Japanese society got mobilized at all levels, and the SDF is doing a heckuva job in logistics and roads re-opening.

Also, transport companies Sagawa Kyubin and Tokyo Tsusho are providing hundreds of trucks to support the SDF and other logistics. However normal commercial speed service Takkyubin is not in a physical capacity to do that. But trucks are avaialble to pick up medical equipment anywhere in Japan if needed.

We will keep going there and encourage people to go there in the coming weeks to do their bit as the gasoline and transportation improve, but the winter is still there, and the scale of the problem will linger on weeks and months.

Finally, referring to Kobe January 1995 earthquake, and Banda Aceh January 2004 tsunami, the sheer geographic scale of the disaster this time makes it a couple of order of magnitude higher in the tackling, regardless of the nuke problem. But as Norbert remember, in Banda Aceh, it was a mess of bottlenecking and non coordination in the beginning, but at least there were both the Medan airport, and the Banda Aceh airport in good order including the military side, even after an helicopter crashed. However here, Sendai civilian airport was smashed, and is only re-opening now, with this time permission to be used by the SDF. This side of the logistics is crucial to quickly re-open the supply lines and chanelling goods and people.

Again thanks and kind regards,

Chris B.