Local aid groups vow to keep helping Japan recover
On the anniversary of Japan's quake and tsunami, local aid groups remember the thousands who died.
Seattle Times science reporter
Japan relief/recovery efforts:
Seattle Japan Relief: http://seattlejapanrelief.org
Earthquake preparedness: www.seattle.gov/emergency
Neighborhood hubs: www.seattle.gov/emergency/prepare
It could be a decade before Japan fully recovers from last year's earthquake and tsunami, and several Seattle-based organizations vowed Sunday to keep helping as long as money and manpower allow.
"It's not a short-term endeavor," said Charles Aanenson, founder of Peace Winds America. "It's going to take five, maybe 10 years."
His fledgling organization raised $2 million for emergency assistance, Aanenson said at a memorial for the nearly 20,000 who died in Japan a year ago Sunday.
The memorial also was to discuss Japan's rebuilding and to promote preparedness in the Northwest, where scientists say a similar double-punch will strike some day.
Volunteers from the YMCA of Greater Seattle have been traveling to Japan all year, and another group is to go soon, said international-development director Monica Quill Kusakabe.
"All of us here are only making a small dent in what needs to be done," she said. "So please keep Japan in your thoughts and offer support if you can."
At 2:46 p.m., the local time in Japan when the quake struck, Japanese Consul General Kiyokazu Ota, other dignitaries and more than 100 participants took turns ringing the Kobe Bell at Seattle Center. The bell was a gift to Seattle from its oldest sister city, and has long been a gathering place to commemorate the 1995 earthquake that devastated Kobe and its port.
Peace Winds America was organized in 2008 to help Pacific nations recover from natural disasters, Aanenson said. Its Japanese branch expected to be providing assistance, not receiving it.
But Peace Winds' contacts in Japan allowed the group to respond quickly, chartering helicopters and flying into communities on Japan's northern coast within days of the tsunami.
The group coordinated food donations from Costco, Ikea and Japanese businesses.
They set up satellite phones when all other service was out, then operated cellphone charging stations after wireless access returned but electric power remained down.
More than 300,000 homes were destroyed and nearly half a million people evacuated across Japan.
Most of the displaced are now living in temporary housing. The trailer-like structures are poorly insulated, and aid groups like Peace Winds continue to provide portable heaters and electric blankets.
Many temporary schools have only a fraction of the supplies they need, said Peace Winds project officer Mariko Poorman.
The group's top priority is to assist fishermen, who account for 85 percent of the economy on Japan's northern coast, Aanenson said. Volunteers helped construct and equip a new warehouse for a fishing cooperative and made grants to individual fishermen to replace gear and buy equipment.
Another recipient was a small coffee shop, modeled after Seattle's more famous versions. The waterfront business owner lost everything in the tsunami except his round, anchor logo. With a grant from Peace Winds, he was able to reopen.
The Pacific Northwest is vulnerable to the same type of earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan. While tsunami damage would be concentrated on the outer coast, as it was in Japan, Seattle and other urban areas could be rocked hard.
"We know it's going to be an earthquake that's our biggest and baddest natural disaster," said Debbie Goetz, of Seattle's Office of Emergency Management.
Realizing that phones and utilities would likely be disrupted for several days and that emergency responders would be overwhelmed, volunteers and neighborhood groups across the city have organized backup communications and triage networks.
The "Community Preparedness-Emergency Communications Hubs" include a designated gathering place — usually a school, church or community center — emergency supplies and walkie-talkies provided by the city.
The idea is for residents to canvass their neighborhood for injured or trapped people, fires and other emergencies, and also to pool resources and skills to handle as many problems on their own as possible, said David Brown, of West Seattle Be Prepared, which coordinates nine hubs.
Several neighborhoods still lack hubs, including much of the Central District and Beacon Hill.
The walkie-talkies will allow the hubs to relay messages to Seattle's Emergency Operations Center via a network of volunteer ham radio operators.
The old-fashioned technology that was once the only way for people to communicate wirelessly and inexpensively remains one of the most robust networks. When land lines jam and cellphone towers topple, battery-operated radio systems keep chugging.
"The bare-bones system that always seems to come through is amateur radio," Goetz said.
More than 100 amateur operators across Seattle have formed a volunteer network to provide backup communications in an emergency, forwarding messages from neighborhood hubs and even supplementing police and fire communications if necessary, said volunteer coordinator Dave Mann.
Modern ham radio can even transmit text messages and photos, he said — without need of an Internet connection.
Sandi Doughton: 206-464-2491 or firstname.lastname@example.org