It’s almost a year since the 9.0-level Great East Japan Earthquake, as the disaster is now officially called, and the subsequent tsunami devastated a huge swath of the Tohoku region along the country’s northeast coast. With the anniversary looming, many communities in the U.S are planning commemorative events, and many people are remembering how they learned of the disaster.
The initial news of the earthquake, which struck at 2:46 PM local time on March 11, 2011, were horrific: I got an email alert and tuned in CNN late at night Denver time on March 10, and saw the tsunami devour entire towns, outracing cars of residents trying to escape its path. The total toll as of February was over 15,000 confirmed dead with over 3,000 still missing. The tsunami that wreaked most of the havoc after the earthquake was as high as 40.5 meters, or 133 feet — that’s 13 stories high — and washed as far as 10 kilometers, or six miles, inland. Entire towns were erased in one terrible wave. And with the added terror of nuclear meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai Ichi nuclear plant, a town and its entire surrounding shave become toxic and closed off for decades, with lives interrupted, homes abandoned.
The reaction to the disaster on both sides of the Pacific was swift and supportive. Nationally, JACL announced a partnership with Direct Relief International, which has now given more than $2.4 million in donations to eight organizations in Japan — 100% of all donations went to recovery efforts, with no administrative fees taken out. The American Red Cross takes out a portion of all donaions to pay for administative fees, but it’s the best-known relief organization in times of crisis, and by the end of summer the Red Cross announced it had given $260 million to tsunami relief in Japan.
Beyond such high-profile efforts, there were dozens of fundraising events and benefit concerts across the U.S including in Denver, where a number of fundraising events were held to channel money to recovery efforts. The Red Cross in Colorado raised $3 million for Japan. The Japan America Society of Colorado raised more than $126,000 over the few months and hand-delivered a check directly to aid agencies on the ground in the affected part of Japan at he end of the summer. (Full disclosure: I’m a board member of JASC, although I wasn’t involved in the fundraising efforts.)
The Asian Pacific Development Center’s “Power of Solidarity” concert, which was held just weeks after the quake, raised over $30,000. There were other concerts organized on the fly to raise money for disaster relief and recovery efforts.
All of the expressions of goodwill and condolences — and donations, and volunteer aid workers — from around the world were much appreciated by the Japanese government. In the run-up to the March 11 first anniversary of the disaster, the Japanese government has been sending out groups of diplomatic emissaries to thank communities for their help.
A couple of weeks ago, Yoshio Onodera, the Director of Risk Management for Miyagi Prefecture, the state most affected by the tsunami, visited Denver with a delegation to show his government’s appreciation.