Updated 17th March, 2011
Aid agencies are mobilising for the relief effort in Japan in the wake of last Friday's devastating earthquake and tsunami.
World Vision announced on Monday that an assessment team had arrived in Sendai, one of the coastal communities which bore the full brunt of the 10 metre high tsunami. The death toll in Sendai alone is expected to exceed 10,000 - at least 1,800 have so far been confirmed dead.
BASEBALLER LOOKS TO STRENGTH IN GOD
American professional baseball player Matt Murton, who plays for Japan's Hanshin Tigers, was in Japan when the earthquake hit.
Writing from the city of Kobe, he said: "On most days I would still be at the field, but on this particular day we didn't have a game, just a practice. I arrived back to my apartment in Kobe at around 2:30 pm and was upstairs on the 19th floor when the quake hit. The amount of swaying back and forth was tremendous given the fact that the epicenter was hundreds of miles away."
He added that "It was a truly frightening experience for the family as we gathered the kids, huddled and prayed, " Murton added. "When we arrived downstairs and found that the epicenter was in the Sendai region I immediately began to pray knowing that if we felt that much they surely were in trouble."
Yet, he said, "When all of this occurred it was no doubt very unnerving and there were moments of doubt. However I know God has a plan and a reason and only through Him can we remain strong."
"We are here on the outskirts of Sendai, about 10-15 kilometres from the downtown area, an area called Arahama," said Kenjiro Ban, World Vision Japan's humanitarian emergency affairs manager and a veteran aid worker who had been part of the organisation's response to the Haiti earthquake.
"This is the most severely hit area by the tsunami. Rice paddies are covered by sea water, and big trees have been flushed away. There is total devastation. There is no one here, it is silent."
World Vision staff will now look to the immediate needs of survivors with initial relief supplies including child food and clothing.
Andrea Swinburne-Jones, emergency co-ordinator at World Vision Australia, told Sight on Wednesday that the team would also be assessing the need for the establishment of "child friendly spaces".
“They offer psycho-social support for children…It’s a safe space for children – they can be as simple as under a tarpaulin or a tent or it can actually be in a physical structure…," she said, adding that the aim is to provide spaces for children to "be children again" and return to some sense or normality as soon as possible.
The confirmed death toll from the earthquake has passed 4,300 with expectations it could climb into the tens of thousands.
Ms Swinburne-Jones said that while Japan has a sophisticated disaster response system and is world leading in responding to earthquakes – “we hear of people doing regular drills to do with earthquake situations” – the scale of the disaster's impact is massive.
“Even though Japan does have a very sophisticated system in place, this situation is of such a large scale that any nation would be overwhelmed by it.”
Internationally World Vision has launched an appeal through which it is aiming to raise $10 million for disaster relief.
Alongside World Vision other aid agencies, including faith-based organisations, were also responding.
A team of Baptist Aid workers was reported as having arrived in the country and, according to spokesman Eron Henry, others remain on standby. Meanwhile US-based Samaritan's Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) said they are "partnering with churches in Japan to bring Christian relief to hurting people".
In the UK, the British Methodist Church's World Mission Fund has launched an appeal on behalf of partner church, the United Church of Christ in Japan. The UCCJ has said at least 36 churches were damaged in the Sendai region.
Aid agencies says they are being careful to work as part of a coordinated effort to minimise overlap.
Tadateru Konoé, president of the Japanese Red Cross Society and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, has visited the Iwate prefecture in north-east Japan, one of the worst-hit areas.
“I have never seen anything as bad as this before. It defies belief,” he said.
According to the Red Cross, there are now more than 430,000 people being housed in 2,500 evacuation centres, mostly in schools and other public buildings. The Red Cross has 85 medical teams operating out of hospitals and mobile clinics. They are reporting cases of people suffering from hypothermia and say many people are suffering the effects of having swallowed contaminated water during the tsunami.
- with reporting from BosNewsLife, Ekklesia, and ENInews.
FOR ALL OUR COVERAGE OF THE EARTHQUAKE AND TSUNAMI IN JAPAN, click here...