IN JAPAN: Baptists struggle to reach disaster zone

Baptist Press
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Posted: Mar 16, 2011 6:00 PM
IN JAPAN: Baptists struggle to reach disaster zone
TOKYO (BP)--Across the upper half of Japan, life is either in tatters or at a standstill. With some roads impassable and fuel almost nonexistent in the north, relief and rescue workers have struggled to reach the areas where they are needed most.

This disaster is like nothing Makoto Kato has ever seen. Kato, the Japan Baptist Convention's executive secretary, said the area affected by the disaster is large, but the biggest problem is simply getting there.

"People are hurting because of a lack of food, water and electricity," Kato said. "The devastating part is that we can't get there yet."

While multiple Baptist churches have sustained structural damage and church members are still missing, Kato said the most urgent concern is the nuclear power plants in the stricken region.

"The fear and suffering sustained from earthquakes and tsunami is being multiplied by the panic of radiation exposure," Kato said. "We pray for the Lord to provide His peace, comfort and hope. We pray that those victims suffering alone in the cold will quickly be rescued."

The pileup of disasters -- earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis -- has multiplied the complications. Some 70,000 people had already been evacuated from a 12-mile radius; about 140,000 remain in the new 30-mile warning zone, according to news reports. More than 500,000 people have been made homeless by the quake and tsunami. Many endured snow and freezing temperatures Wednesday, as government supplies began to reach the worst affected areas.

A four-member team from the Japan Baptist Convention and Japanese Baptist Union was forced to turn around when they tried to enter the disaster zone to check on the 21 churches affiliated with the two entities. Special government permits are needed to travel the expressway and to enter disaster zones. Another main route to the earthquake- and tsunami-affected areas goes through radiation evacuation zones. Back roads are open, but fuel is scarce so traveling long distances is almost impossible.

Two North Carolina Baptists, however, managed to make it to the outer edges of the tsunami disaster zone for a quick 12-hour survey. Jack Frazier of Willow Springs, N.C., and John Adams of Salemburg, N.C., are part of a Baptist World Aid "Rescue 24 International" team made up of search and rescue workers from the United States and Hungary.

Frazier said the devastation is heartbreaking. Cars washed up on top of houses. A building knocked off its foundation. Loose debris piled high in fields ruined by the rush of water.

"We went for search and rescue, but quickly realized the Japanese government had that under control," Frazier said. The government has deployed 100,000 troops to lead the aid effort. "So, we drove around evaluating the damage and found an evacuation center."

Around 400 people had taken refuge in the center. Frazier said there was no electricity or gas in the area. When the Rescue 24 team arrived, the evacuation center was low on food.

"All they had was a half of a box of bananas and a half of a box of oranges for 400 people," Frazier said.

The Baptist team went from store to store, trying to find food to help. Frazier said the line just to get into the local 7-Eleven store numbered around 200. They finally came across a truck unloading groceries at the back of a store and convinced them to sell more than the "rationing" amount so they could feed the 400 people.

"We stuffed our van with as much food as it would hold," Frazier said.

Survivors in the shelters in the earthquake and tsunami areas said they are short of food and water, according to news reports. The Japanese army is using helicopters to bring in basic supplies. With the country's power supply depleted by the damaged nuclear plants, many shelters have no heat. Frazier concurred that the ongoing nuclear crisis makes it hard to get much aid or relief work done at the moment.

Susie Rain is an IMB writer/editor living in Asia. The International Mission Board has established a relief fund for the Japan earthquake. 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 visit http://imbresources.org/index.cfm/product/detail/prodID/3352 to give online. For further information call the IMB toll-free at 1-800-999-3113.

EXTRA: Mark and Sharon Bennett, Southern Baptist missionaries to Japan, were homeschooling when the massive 9.0-magnitude earthquake shook Japan March 11. After the initial quake, the Bennetts joined many of their neighbors outside as the aftershocks began. The video they shot of the initial damage and ensuing cleanup is posted on CNN's iReport. (http://ireport.cnn.com/people/bennettinjp) The Bennetts are recording their post-earthquake experiences on their blog: http://web.me.com/bennettinjapan/Earthquake_2011/JAPAN_Earthquake_Blog/JAPAN_Earthquake_Blog.html.

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