As part of JCI Academy, the international delegates were invited to visit Sendai and the areas stricken by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan the 11th of March this year. You can read in my blog post on the Academy how the Academy overall was affected by the biggest disaster in the history of Japan.
We were invited to Sendai by JCI Sendai, to learn about the disaster and the responses by JCI and the Japanese government, we were going to see the areas hit by the tsunami, then meet children and plant trees for peace, but the trip didn’t go quite as expected…Instead we learned in real time what happens in Japan when an earthquake hits and a tsunami warning is broadcast.
The international delegates on the Sendai Program. Because of short notice not all international delegates were able to participate. The participating delegates came from Columbia, Panama, Trinidad & Tobago, Egypt, Iceland, Australia, Benin, Lxembourg, Honduras, Mongolia, the Netherlands and the UK.
A building in Sendai
Buildings in Japan are built to withstand earthquakes with a magnitude of 10 or larger, so though the earthquake that hit in March was the strongest in the history of Japan with a magnitude of 9, and the 4th strongest in the world, most of the buildings of Sendai survived structurally. Facades fell down and windows were broken, but overall the damage to the city from the earthquake was not major.
House hit by the tsunami
Most damage from the disaster the 11th of March was made by the tsunami. It was not that Japan wasn’t prepared for a tsunami. Japan was very well prepared. 5 meter tall wave breakers in the sea outside Japan. Cities and towns are twinned with other towns – so that if something happens with Sendai, Kobe helps. If something happens with Tokyo, Kyoto helps. Shelters were built in case of a tsunami. The country was very well prepared.
A school designated as shelter in the tsunami stricken area outside Sendai
It was just that when the disaster hit the 11th of March, it was just a lot larger than anyone ever could have imagined. In places the tsunami wave was 38 meters hight. It hit 5 km inland. Shelters, like the school in the picture above, was hit by a 10 meter high wave. In the school in the picture, the whole village was taking shelter when the tsunami hit. The school is 2 floors high, the wave hitting it was 10 meters high.
Cars and cars and more cars…
When a tsunami wave hits it is not like a gentle wave, its more like a brick wall. The texture is different than normal waves, which is why it is possible to measure tsunami waves of 10 cm, waves you cannot see. The wave brings with it rubble and mud and everything it finds in its way.
A graveyard completely ruined by the tsunami
Most of what we saw was just…nothing. All flat. The only thing left of houses, lives and homes were the foundations. Rubble everywhere. Ricepaddies ruined by salt water.
International delegates visit the tsunami stricken area
Around the time the picture above was taken, one of the largest after quakes to hit the area hit with the same epi center as the earth quake the 11th of March, with a magnitude of 7.1. Where we were, the quake should have felt like 4, but we didn’t really notice anything. The area is hit by earthquakes the whole time, more than 500 aftershocks so far, more than 100 with a magnitude over 6. As a comparison, the earthquake that completely destroyed Christchurch in New Zealand in 2010 had a magnitude of 6.3. This area of Japan is hit by this magnitude quakes almost daily. But as you can see from the picture of the building in Sendai, Japan is probably the safest country to be in when an earthquake hits.
Tsunami warning on Japanese TV
A bit after getting back into the bus, the bus stopped and a lot of cell phones started going off. It turned out that a large quake had hit with a magnitude of 7.1 not far from where we were, and a tsunami warning had been issued for the same areas that were hit the 11th of March. We had just left the stricken area, we were still in areas that had been somewhat stricken, and the thought of a new tsunami was not very comforting.
We waited in the bus until the tsunami warning was lifted. In the end the tsunami that hit were only about 10 cm, but it delayed our program. Our hosts found it best if we did not go to the most affected areas to meet the children and promised to plant trees on our behalf.
In the end it was a very interesting experience to see the machinery that starts with a tsunami warning in Japan, and after the first shock, we all felt very safe.
We are allowed to leave and say goodbye to our JCI Sendai friends. We have an 8 hour bus ride to Tokyo ahead of us.
We handed over a signed JCI flag to the JCI President of Sendai on behalf of all the international JCI Academy Delegates
If you want to learn more about what JCI Japan did to help when the earthquake hit, watch this movie from JCI Operation Hope:
Categorised in: Charity
This post was written by Sofie Sandell