By Owei Lakemfa
ETSUKO KOYAM lived on the third floor of an apartment building in Japan. That was until last Friday when she saw water tearing through her apartment floor. She ran for dear life holding her dear daughter’s hand.
But the gushing water was more powerful, it snatched the girl from her, and the two may never see again. But Koyama is optimistic: “I haven’t given up hope yet. I saved myself but couldn’t save my daughter”.
In a split second decision, a 60-year-old man got to the roof of his house as the floods swept through his neighbourhood.
The floods apparently detached the roof and swept him off the coast of Fukushima where a military vessel found him floating past, still on the roof top, and rescued him.
His was one of the few miracles that were recorded in a devastation that is so massive that one week later, it is still difficult to fathom.
The tragedy that wiped out Japanese villages, towns and cities was a two-minute demonstration of power and fury by the earth; it was 120 seconds display of the superior power of nature’s devastating hand.
There were amazing television footages showing when the waters, sent roaring like huge hurricanes by the earthquake, touched shore. They showed ships being swept along roads like paper toys in a fast flowing stream.
Houses, including storey buildings, being swept on as if they had no foundations. Concrete bridges braking like match sticks. I saw the photograph of a ship resting on a multi storey building.
The cameras showed people dazed; walking around like zombies; many yet to comprehend what had hit them and their country. As they walked through the rubbles that used to be a city, no property was left standing; they were just layers of waste and devastation.
In two minutes flat, many parts of highly industrialised Japan were reduced to a pre historic era. At least two million households had no electricity. An initial estimate of those who lost their lives was put at 10,000 but the Police chief in the Miyagi Prefecture (State) said the estimate of those who perished in the state alone , surpassed that figure. Expectedly, tens of thousands are missing.
The photographs of the devastated parts of Japan can be mistaken for the Japan of August 6,1945 when the Americans dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima which destroyed 75 percent of the city and sent some 65,000 Japanese to early graves of ash.
At both times, the people suffered from radiation; the primary difference being that while last Friday’s tsunami was a natural disaster, that of Hiroshima was man-made.
For a people visited with such devastation, and mourning huge loss of lives, to be forced in some areas, to remain indoors by radiation effects, is an additional harrowing experience as they suffer severe food shortages, lack electricity and running water.
But it is a ‘house arrest’ they have to endure because being shielded from the winds and the rains means that there is a reduced danger of their being affected by radioactive materials. Additionally, their food is contaminated, forcing some countries to stop all food imports from Japan.
Even in cases where authorities have some food, rescue teams find it difficult to distribute as there are severe fuel shortages.
With multiple explosions and one of the nuclear reactors burning for 96 hours, it is not certain how the radiation challenges can be met.
The Japanese situation raises once again, the issue of nuclear power. Since the April 26,1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster which affected 4.9 million people in present day Ukraine, Russia and Belarus, this issue has been a major one no matter the purpose of the nuclear plant. The focus had almost always been on how well they are built and safety measures in place, and not the type of Japanese situation where the danger was from nature not man.
On the positive side is the courage and dignity the Japanese have shown. We do not see images of rampaging gangs taking advantage of the disaster to loot, rape, maim or kill as happened in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
We are lucky in Nigeria that we have been generally spared the ugly sides of nature such as tsunamis and hurricanes. However, we must not forget that we have a long coastline where our shores kiss the Atlantic Ocean, and the latter hugs us in a grip as if we are inseparable Siamese twins. Nigerians can be further endangered by our determined efforts to claim lands from the ocean to build a ‘city’ or two.
It may be cold comfort that the Bible reports a vow by God that he would not wipe out the earth by water, but the devastation we have witnessed shows that large parts of humanity can indeed be wiped out by water. All we need do is cast our minds back to December 26, 2004 when a tsunami and giant waves swept through a dozen countries resulting in over 230,000 deaths.
The Japanese tsunami is a collective tragedy of humanity and it is gratifying to see mankind rise as one to give succour and carry out rescue operations. Africa’s presence was stamped emphatically by South Africa which sent a 50-person “Rescue South Africa” mission, including fire fighters, rescuers and dog handlers.
The earth is one and can be visited by natural disasters any second. One important thing we must ensure is that we do not in any way contribute to such disasters whether by way of global warming or other man-induced means.
Humanity also needs to forge ahead with efforts to predict nature and mitigate its unwelcome aspects. Doubtlessly, if the Japanese had some early warning before the earthquake struck, it would have been possible to save many lives. So while we submit to this whipping by nature, we remain defiant; humanity shall forge ahead. Japan shall be rebuilt and we all in our small ways, need to contribute to that reconstruction.