.- Officials of the Catholic relief agency Caritas Japan have met with clergy of the Diocese of Sendai to discuss plans for relief and rehabilitation work in an area devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
The northeastern Japanese area of Sendai, near the earthquake's epicenter, is only beginning to reestablish communication with the rest of the country. On March 16, Caritas Japan president Bishop Tarcisius Isao Kikuchi joined the agency's executive director Fr. Paul Daisuke Narui, and other clergy in meetings at the Sendai chancery office, to discuss Caritas' ongoing response to the crisis.
Fr. Narui described the extensive damage to the Sendai area in an online report for the Catholic relief agency Caritas.
“There are long walls of wrecked cars and destroyed houses,” he said. “Towns and villages have been flattened and destroyed, and life has been stopped in its tracks.”
Many residents of other areas with damaged nuclear facilities have been evacuated to Sendai City, where most buildings remained standing despite the earthquake and waves. Caritas officials are working with Japanese parishes in neighboring dioceses, to provide for the displaced residents' needs.
“In some shelters,” Fr. Narui reported, “evacuees share just one blanket among three people.”
After surveying the damage, Caritas representatives and local clergy discussed the use of donations that have been coming in from around the world, and made plans to establish a task force to support the victims.
A new emergency support center has begun receiving supplies and volunteers, and is slated to operate for at least six months. Individual parishes are also opening their doors to take in individuals and families made homeless by the catastrophic events.
“As the aftershocks keep coming and the snow continues to fall,” Fr. Narui stated, “we will do our best to make sure this solidarity helps as many people as possible.”
The earthquake and tsunami, along with the resulting nuclear crisis north of Tokyo, have hit Japan's large elderly population especially hard. Many older residents of northeastern Japan were unable to flee from the tsunami and are unlikely to be found alive, while others have been forced to stop necessary medical treatment during the evacuation process. Nearly a quarter of Japan's population is over 65.
Meanwhile international observers have continued to express concern over the possible effects of the earthquake on several of Japan's nuclear plants.
Yukia Amano, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said on March 17 that “the situation continues to be very serious” at the Fukushima Daiichi facility. The U.S. has begun evacuating its citizens from parts of Japan to nearby Taiwan, as Japanese engineers struggle to cool down the plant's overheating fuel rods.