Red Cross assists tsunami survivors moving into temporary shelters

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By Kathy Mueller in Japan

Kimie Yamada points at the small apartment building that just last month she shared with her two daughters. Today, like many other structures in Rikuzentakata, only the shell remains following the tsunami that swept through it on 11 March.

This coastal city of 30,000 people was decimated by the tsunami. The only signs of houses that once neighboured Yamada’s apartment building are the foundations they once stood on.

An elementary school teacher, Kimie was in class when the earthquake hit. Apart from her daughters, her first thought was for her students; to make sure they got to safety in the hills. It was during the hike to higher ground that Kimie came across an elderly disabled woman who was unable to walk. Kimie carried her on her back to safety, a gesture she downplays. “Everyone was supporting each other,” she says shyly.

Since that day, Yamada and her daughters have been living with her parents. It’s crowded and Kimie feels she is burdening them, but that is about to change. The family has been selected as one of the first to receive a newly built pre-fabricated house. The government is constructing 70,000 of them across the three hardest hit prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima. The Japanese Red Cross Society, using funds donated from overseas, is fitting each of these pre-fabricated houses with a package of six appliances, a project that will benefit more than 280,000 people.

“We have been receiving donations from other Red Cross and Red Crescent societies around the world,” says Atsuhiko Hata, the Japanese Red Cross Society’s public relations director. “We wanted to use these donations to meet the needs of tsunami survivors. The six appliances we are providing are the bare minimum needed to help them start a new life.”

The appliance package includes a refrigerator, washing machine, microwave, rice cooker, hot water dispenser, and a television; items that help make a house a home, and, in the case of the television, a valuable tool for providing information before, during and after disasters.

“I am excited to live in this house, and to see all the appliances,” says 13-year-old Yuma. “It’s nice and clean. I have only been able to take a shower once every three days. Now I am happy to be able to bathe every day.”

Her younger sister Ayane is excited to use the microwave and says she can’t wait for her mum to cook her favourite meal – lasagne. As for Kimie, she’s looking forward to having a good sleep, something she and her daughters have not been able to do since the tsunami. She’s worried about her daughters. Ten-year-old Ayane starts hyperventilating during the many aftershocks that continue to rumble through the region. But with the new shelter, and appliances from supporters of the Red Cross and Red Crescent throughout the world, the future for her family is looking brighter.

“I am very thankful to all those who donated and supported the Red Cross. I wish I could return the favour. I don’t know how to express my gratitude. Words are not enough.”