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Aftershocks keep Japan’s survivors on edge
Susie Rain, Baptist Press
April 13, 2011

Aftershocks keep Japan’s survivors on edge

Aftershocks keep Japan’s survivors on edge
Susie Rain, Baptist Press
April 13, 2011

ISHINOMAKI, Japan — Things appeared to be getting better in

Hirasuka Kiiko’s neighborhood on the outer edge of Japan’s tsunami disaster

zone.

Cleanup crews hauled off mounds of debris blocking the entrance to her home.

They even towed the pile of cars deposited in her driveway by the March 11 tsunami.

Her children shoveled out the mud and muck left in the ground floor of her

two-story house.

When electricity finally returned to her neighborhood April 7, Kiiko slept

inside for the first time in a month. She’d been too scared to stay by herself

in the dark, not to mention the threat of another earthquake. On her first

night back home, she stayed on the second floor, “just in case another tsunami

hits.” The water level reached more than halfway up the front door, so the top

floor seemed safest.

The middle-aged Japanese woman couldn’t contain her excitement about the next

day.

Utility workers promised the community their water would be turned on. She

went to bed dreaming about taking a hot bath and washing clothes, something she’s

been unable to do since the earthquake and tsunami.

Then, at 11:36 p.m., a 7.6-magnitude aftershock rocked the area. A low rumble

built to a dull roar. The shaking lasted less than two minutes but felt like

eternity. Everything in Kiiko’s house moved straight up and down, a sign the

quake’s epicenter was directly below the region.

BP photo

Hirasuka Kiiko, a resident of Ishinomaki, Japan, assists in the distribution of food near a closed convenience store in a neighborhood flooded by the tsunami. Kiiko has been living in an evacuation center where the only food she had for four days was a banana and a grape juice box that she shared with two neighbors.

An eery silence descended as more than 1 million people were, once again,

without electricity. Kiiko picked up her thin futon mattress and the pile of

blankets. She felt her way down the stairs in the dark and joined her neighbors

outside in the cold. No one got much sleep as aftershocks continued to ripple

through the area.

“It’s so scary,” Kiiko said, commiserating with her neighbors. More than 975

aftershocks have hit Japan in the past month, but this was the biggest so far. “It’s

like we went back to zero. Just as everything’s starting to get back to normal,

we get hit again — and the fears resurface.”

In the darkness, Kiiko relived the nightmare of March 11, the day she thought

she would die. The 9.0-magnitude earthquake hit, knocking down utility poles

and wires and carving cracks in her house. When the tsunami warning blared, she

never dreamed it would come as far inland as her house. As the wall of water

rushed toward her neighborhood, she jumped in the car to drive away.

The raging flood overtook her, however, and filled the car to her shoulders.

Kiiko managed to open the door and escape, but wandered in waist-deep water for

days. She rested on top of debris as snow fell around her. Finally, she found

shelter at an evacuation center.

Even then, she felt cut off from the rest of the world; no supplies could get

to the center due to the nuclear crisis. After four days, Kiiko found a banana

to eat and split a grape juice box with two neighbors. When government relief

supplies arrived at the shelter, the first offerings consisted mainly of

instant noodles. Kiiko grabbed some and joined her neighbors heading back home,

determined to be strong and rebuild.

When the sun rose April 8, Kiiko welcomed an end to the long night of

aftershocks, but the disturbing images and emotions remained. She pushed away

the horrible memories with thoughts of a food distribution that morning. Twice

before, International Mission Board missionaries had brought food and supplies

to her neighborhood. They promised to return that day with more.

Kiiko lined up in the parking lot of the local grocery store with more than a

hundred others.

The rank stench of spoiled food wafted from the store, but that

didn’t deter the group from staking out their spot. Japanese government

supplies are sent to the 150,000 citizens living in shelters, but those who can

live in their homes are expected to fend for themselves, despite the fact that

food, gas and kerosene are still in short supply, especially after big

aftershocks like the one April 7.

The group waited for hours. The aftershocks closed roads and caused traffic

jams. The missionaries were three hours late, but no one seemed to mind. That’s

just the way life is now. Everyone was excited when the van arrived.

“You didn’t forget us,” Kiiko blurted out, jumping out of line and directing

several men to unload supplies.

“I fear people are going to forget. We still need the help,” Kiiko said,

acknowledging that it’s been a month since the triple disaster. “Please don’t

let them forget Japan!”

Kiiko worked alongside the missionaries as the food was handed out. Eighty bags

did not last long. Many who waited left empty-handed, yet no one got angry or

fought for food. Someone rummaged in the van for anything else that could be

handed out and emerged with a box of homemade cookies. Each remaining person

got two cookies.

That’s when the missionaries noticed Kiiko, the woman who had assisted them,

was empty-handed.

To show that she did receive something, Kiiko pulled a single homemade cookie

out of her large cloth shopping bag. “Every little thing we get helps,” she

said, explaining that she wanted to give away all of the food to her neighbors

before helping herself.

“There has been so much bad luck that I wanted to give it away, so goodness

would come back to me,” she explained, referring to her Buddhist beliefs of

making merit. She opened her cookie, which had a Bible verse written on the

paper wrapper.

Kiiko paused and read the verse. She touched the paper to her heart and

reverently placed it in her pocket before turning to the missionaries and

making them promise to return.

Kiiko admits she was interested in the desperately needed supplies, but she

also said she feels some sense of peace and calmness — even when a small

aftershock interrupted the conversation. It was hardly a major tremor compared

to the others — “just” a 5.2-magnitude — but it was enough to make Kiiko catch

her breath.

These days, Japan just won’t stop shaking — whether it’s the ground beneath

Kiiko’s feet or her belief system. Japan’s world is slowly shifting.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Rain is an IMB writer/editor living in Southeast Asia. The

International Mission Board has established a relief fund for the Japan

disaster. Donations may be sent to Office of Finance, International Mission

Board, 3806 Monument Ave., Richmond, VA 23230. In the memo line write “Japan

Response Fund.” Or you can give online by going to imb.org and clicking on

the “Japan response” button. For further information, call the IMB toll-free at

1-800-999-3113.)