By: Bill Horan
Report from the field: OBI teams share their firsthand, eye-witness accounts of the relief efforts in Japan
URATO ISLANDS, Japan – Shiogama is known as the Tuna Capital of Japan and the center of a huge fishing industry. There are tuna statues and art work depicting tuna everywhere. The oceanfront was decimated by the tsunami, but much of the wave's velocity struck four islands just off shore.
Help disaster victims now
The islands, known as the Urato Islands, are famous for an incredibly delicious variety of oysters and two types of seaweed that have been revered by the Japanese for centuries. Around 600 fishing families live on the four islands, and all depend on the sea for their livelihood. The oyster cultivation beds and seaweed farms were all but wiped out, and the undersea cable supplying electricity to all four island was torn up by the tsunami. So far, all relief efforts for the islands are being been made by helicopter and small boats.
Through our relationship with the mayor of Shiogama, we were able to arrange a meeting with the director of Shiogama's Department of Fisheries to discuss how we might help the residents of the islands. We asked if he could arrange for a boat to take us there and he made it happen. Yesterday David, Don and I visited each island, inspected the damage, and met the leaders of the islands' fishing cooperative.
The damage on the seaward side of the islands was catastrophic. Miraculously, all of the islands' 600 families survived despite horrific damage to homes, boats and infrastructure. A well-rehearsed warning sounded on each island immediately following the quake, and all residents grabbed their children and pets and ran to higher ground. Now, almost all residents are hunkered in school shelters in the interior of each island. They are not comfortable, but they are safe. The men need to get back to work and we aim to help make that happen.
Besides harvesting oysters and farming seaweed in a network of bamboo structures located in the shallow waters around each island, the communities export tiny seed oysters to aquaculture farms all over Japan and as far as Seattle. The baby oysters are raised on strings of scallop shells threaded on cords that dangle in the sea from floats and bamboo scaffold-like structures.
Almost all of that was wiped out in the tsunami.
We met with the committee on Katsura Shima Island in a tiny office heated by a kerosene heater. I told the committee that I have the heart of a fisherman, am from a long line of fishermen, have a home on an island just like they do, and represent Operation Blessing, a charity funded by American Christians. I explained that OBI wants to help them get back to work.
I asked my favorite question: "What do you need most?" I thought they would say boats or fishing gear, but that wasn't their answer. They said that besides electricity, they needed three computers, a printer and Internet access. They explained that they cannot conduct co-op business and banking transactions or communicate with the mainland because the co-op headquarters had been inundated and all office equipment destroyed. They have a small gasoline generator to run their office but no office equipment! We asked them to make a list of what they needed most–which they did on the spot.
Last night after dark, Don drove me and David to a superstore in Sendai, and we bought three high-powered laptop computers, a printer, paper, spare ink cartridges, and a wireless air card. We called the fisheries director and told him we had the items ready. He was astounded that we had moved so quickly. We will meet him today at the waterfront to hand over for immediate delivery by helicopter to the co-op office on the island.
Before our visit and meeting, we had anticipated the power problems for the islands and ordered (20) 6.6 kilowatt diesel generators. We looked all over Japan for diesel generators, but they were all sold out. The fastest way to get some would be to have them built in the U.S. One of the complications that comes with providing generators in foreign countries is voltage compatibility. In the U.S. we use 60 cycles, 110 volts. In Japan it's 50 cycles, 100 volts. Mike, a member of OBI's Board of Advisers, located a manufacturer in Florida willing to build industrial-grade generators quickly and to our specs at a good price.
Mike negotiated on our behalf and then convinced the manufacturer to work overtime and all weekend to expedite our order. The generators will be delivered to the Orlando airport on April 8 for DHL air shipment to Tokyo. DHL quoted an excellent rate at their actual cost. We will truck the generators north and deliver to the islands on April 12.
Besides the physical benefits, I think of all this as bringing light to the darkness. Donors all over America are bringing light to a dark place through Operation Blessing. We are living our faith in a most significant way.
While we were visiting the islands the rest of the OBI team was doing eye clinic #2 at a large shelter called the Gas Gymnasium Sports Center. They were busy all day and served 166 patients, 121 of which had full eye exams and prescriptions, while 45 only needed reading glasses. Our optometrist, Dr. Taketora, was ecstatic and said it was his all-time record number of patients seen in one day!
Today we are doing eye clinic #3 at a different shelter, as well as a bike distribution for kids, paid for with funds raised at a bake sale organized by my daughter, Brooke, at her 5-year-old son, Zane's school, high in the mountains of Utah. Zane's classmates wrote touching, encouraging notes to the kids in Japan. We will place one of those love notes in the basket of each new bike.
I don't have time to monitor the nuclear plant situation, so I can only pray for quick resolution. So far my Geiger counter is quiet, so no radiation this far north (yet).
Please pray for us and the people of Japan.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
You can help by making an online donation toward OBI's disaster relief efforts. With your support, we can continue to provide emergency relief and recovery. Please make an on-line donation today.