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Monday 14 March 2011

ShelterBoxes bound for Japan after earthquake and tsunami
ShelterBoxes bound for Japan after earthquake and tsunami This is Minamisanriku, north of Sendai, where there is complete devastation. Photograph: Lasse Petersen

The first ShelterBoxes are heading to Japan after last Friday’s devastating earthquake and tsunami.

The emergency situation is still unfolding and at this stage of the response the priority is still on search and rescue operations. ShelterBox Response Team (SRT) members Lasse Petersen (AU) and Mark Pearson (UK) spent today based in Sendai, one of the largest cities struck by the tsunami. 

Mark Pearson, who is ShelterBox’s Field Operations Specialist and has extensive experience operating in disaster zones around the world, has likened the scene to the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

‘There was a two-ton car on top of a three-story building,’ he said. ‘What we’re seeing is the same as I saw in Banda Aceh six years ago. Huge swathes of Sendai have been reduced to rubble and further north whole towns have been completely flattened.

‘We travelled to Minamisanriku, north of Sendai, and there is complete devastation, miles of debris and homes turned to matchsticks. There are food, fuel and water shortages where we are, we’re living inside of an emergency situation.

‘The support we’ve received so far from Japan’s Rotary network has been invaluable and we wouldn’t have been able to operate as effectively and safely as we have without them.’

Lasse Petersen added that the destruction they are seeing rivals the worst of anything he has ever seen before.

The latest reports say that last night 590,000 people, including 210,000 evacuated from the area around the Fukushima nuclear power plant, spent the night in temporary shelter while millions in Japan’s north have spent the past three nights without water, food or heat in near freezing temperatures.

The Japanese government has not yet requested any international assistance for the provision of emergency shelter but has put great value in international aid agencies operating autonomously and self-sufficiently in the country, as ShelterBox is.

To this end, ShelterBox are moving an initial 200 ShelterBoxes into Tokyo and have up to 5,000 more on stand by should they be needed.

ShelterBox Head of Operations, John Leach, said: ‘Japan is a rich nation but the sheer volume of people displaced is what will cause a problem.

‘We believe tents will be needed in the north. In the cold weather, without access to shelter, people who are exposed will really start to suffer. We have to be there to support people in need, whatever country they belong to, when disasters of this scale strike.

‘We’re ready to respond in whatever way and in whatever capacity is required from us.’

ShelterBox Founder and CEO Tom Henderson added: ‘My message to people has always been; do something, don’t do nothing, we can all make a difference. The past days have seen people around the world act with generosity and compassion which will help us make a difference in Japan and in disaster zones across the globe.’

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