Update from Japan: Damage Reports

Latest News (updated 3/28)
3/28: St. Timothy’s Church in Onahama has started a local food assistance program, as part of the NSKK’s response to the earthquake and tsunami (ACNS)
3/25: Death toll over 10,000; 17.500 missing; two nuclear technicians hospitalized (LA Times)
3/23: Japanese archbishop pledges that church will ‘stand with all people’ affected by quake (ACNS)

March 18, 2011

The situation in northern Japan is still dire, a week after a strong offshore earthquake shook buildings and triggered a tsunami that devastated large areas of the country and caused damage as far away as the US West Coast.

The official death toll has topped 6,000, and over 10,000 people have been registered as missing, though the actual count may be thousands more. The situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant continues to deteriorate, prompting large-scale voluntary evacuation of nearby areas. For those still in their homes, and especially for the estimated 400,000-500,000 people taking refuge in temporary shelters, freezing temperatures and the lack of food, gas, water and electricity have made conditions “miserable,” in the words of the Rt. Rev. John Hiromichi Kato, Bishop of the Diocese of Tohoku, who is based in Sendai, Japan. Bishop Kato has been receiving the first damage reports from congregations around his diocese, and though the news is distressing, re-establishing contact with churches has been a welcome development.

Bishop Kato related the following:

  • The tsunami largely spared Grace Church and its kindergarten in Kamaishi, but not all church members have been found.
  • One person is dead at St. John’s Church in Isoyama, a church of eight people with no resident priest.
  • People are evacuating or staying inside in order to avoid radiation at St. Timothy Church in Onahama.
  • The Cathedral Church of Diocese of Tohoku in Sendai was damaged but is not expected to collapse, though Eucharist was held in parish hall out of concern for safety. They have not been able to confirm everyone’s whereabouts or well-being.
  • There is light damage elsewhere in the diocese, further inland.

Bishop Kato also mentioned that, even in the midst of such a disaster, people were still acting with care and courtesy: “For example, right after the quake, traffic lights were not working. But I did not observe any traffic chaos, because people were driving very cautiously [and] taking particular care of the elderly.”

Episcopal Relief & Development is supporting the initial relief efforts of the Nippon Sei Ko Kai (NSKK, the Anglican Communion in Japan), which include the establishment of a relief center at the diocesan office in Sendai, the town closest to the epicenter of the earthquake. “The Headquarters for Relief Activity in Tohoku Diocese has been established, and it is located in the memorial hall [named] for Bishop Norman Spencer Binsted,” reported Bishop Kato. “I, the Bishop of Tohoku, will be in charge of it, and we will handle information gathering and the challenges ahead for immediate relief and rehabilitation… The first priority is to confirm [the] safety of [our] parishioners and church building, but the eventual challenge is to rebuild our diocese. With God’s blessing I pray that we will accomplish this task.”

Episcopal Relief & Development is also supporting the Province’s efforts to develop a response strategy and organize volunteers to carry out relief activities.

After the emergency phase, Episcopal Relief & Development will continue to provide additional support as the NSKK assesses its needs and makes longer-term recovery plans. “While they are still right now in the throes of reviewing how clergy and congregations are impacted by the disaster, and struggling with communications in the coastal areas closest to the quake and tsunami,” said Abagail Nelson, Episcopal Relief & Development’s Senior Vice President for Programs, “they have indicated they are conducting needs assessments involving survivors in communities where their churches are. We have discussed with them and know that survivors will turn to the Church for both short-term and long-term assistance (particularly as the timeline gets further out from the initial quake and resources are exhausted through other avenues).”

Read the latest update from Tohoku Bishop John Hiromichi Kato here.

Read the latest UN OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) situation report here.