need. Lets learn from Haiti and the sad reality of money
being sent but not getting to those in need.
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NEW YORK — Sometimes it’s a fast-moving ooze: A street becomes a stream, grows into a river and then a raging mountain of moving debris. Sometimes, it’s a wet curtain of water crashing over a shoreline, tossing trees, ships and cars casually aside as a child would a stack of Legos. Until a week ago, a tsunami was one of the most mysterious of natural events, its devastating power usually evident only in the aftermath. Yet from the first moments the Earth started to shudder on March 11, Japan’s tsunami was one of the most recorded disasters ever to be captured on film, lending a visual power to story-telling unmatched since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks almost a decade ago. Quake footage was available almost instantly: Office workers running outside as building chunks slam to the ground; skyscrapers swaying like evergreens in a windstorm; pictures falling off walls; store stock spilling to the floor. One man kept recording as his living room seemed to fall apart around him. His camera caught his shaky steps as he finally rushed outside. But as dramatic as the earthquake images were, the tsunami video — some of it live — was breathtaking. A handful of tourists captured the Indonesian tsunami in 2004, but there was much less variety and inferior film quality. Technology — particularly cell-phone cameras — was not what it has become today. Japan, too, is unique — a nation that not only produces electronics but also focuses on technology, camera phones, handheld video and digital cameras. And it may also be the most well-wired country for recording such disasters. With its geologic history, seismic monitors and robotic cameras are mounted throughout the archipelago.
Japanese news crews quickly took to the streets and skies after the earthquake, leaving them well-positioned to capture the tsunami. At times, they were too well-positioned: A video that surfaced late last week showed a local news crew abandoning a car with the tsunami approaching and rushing into a building as water began swirling around their feet.
What, though, do these images do? Do they change how we perceive the event? Do more higher-quality images of catastrophe make it seem more real or more movielike? Will we remember the 2011 Japan tsunami differently than its calamitous predecessors because we saw so much of it so quickly?
In the days that followed the earthquake, CNN producers constantly monitored social media sites to find newly posted material, and dozens of Japanese citizens sent footage directly to CNN, said Parisa Khosravi, senior vice president for CNN news-gathering worldwide.
“In this case, it certainly captured images that no one expected to see,” she said. The story gave CNN its best ratings since President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009, the Nielsen Co. said.
Viewers couldn’t get enough — even those who were personally touched by it.
“I tried, but couldn’t stop watching,” said Maisararam from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, who lost her husband and three daughters in Indonesia’s 2004 tsunami. “It was exactly the same, except they have this horrible footage, events unfolding right before your eyes.”
One particularly arresting video showed water and debris rapidly rising as a group of people struggled to make it up a path to higher ground; CNN stopped rolling the shot — the fate of the crew unknown. In another instance, men who had raced to the top of a parking garage kept recording the tsunami even as one openly wondered whether he would survive or not.
The wealth of visual material stood in contrast to events at the earthquake-damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex where six reactor units have had fires, explosions or partial meltdowns. As the water receded and attention turned to the crippled nuclear plant, the story became one of those events that television is poorly equipped to tell.
Images are elusive. Except for a handful of aerial shots, the drama at the plant has largely been seen in fuzzy video taken from many miles away. Occasionally, water is dumped on damaged nuclear reactors from the air, yet it’s so difficult to see that it must be highlighted by editors in the pictures.
Evacuation zones have also led American TV networks to pull many of their teams out of the immediate area for safety reasons over radiation poisoning.
But no one knows what is really happening at the plant, or what will happen, and how much radiation is being exposed to how many people. That leads to less-than-illuminating reports, such as Lester Holt revealing on the “Today” show that his shoes tested positive for radiation. Other than lost footwear, what did the incident really teach us? Television frequently returned to old-fashioned and visually dull habits out of necessity, bringing a succession of experts before cameras to report the nuclear threat. The uncertain aspects of the story quickly led to on-air debates over whether television was “hyping” the nuclear danger. NBC’s “Nightly News” pointed a finger at the media in a report that minimized any danger to the United States. Fox News Channel’s Shepard Smith labeled “sad and pathetic” Americans who bought anti-radiation pills in large numbers. Yet his own network showed this headline Friday: “Growing Concern Over Radiation Plume Drifting Over Western United States.” But radiation is not a television event; it is, for the most part, something you cannot see — ambiguous, invisible, diffuse. There was nothing ambiguous about the tsunami footage. In an era of unremitting visuals, it was imagery like none other — another example, in a time of technological change, of how we can watch the world unfold, even in its saddest, most frightening moments.
Sunday, March 20, 2011 — Shaken by its worst disaster in recent memory, Japan is battling to restore the hope for a shocked and vulnerable population, including hundreds of thousands crowded into evacuation centers, and slowly get back on its feet despite daunting obstacles.
In many respects, the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan’s northeast is rapidly becoming a disaster associated with the elderly. The three evacuation centers in the shattered town of Otsuchi are filled with the old and ill. Many are too tired or too sick to do little but lie on mattresses on the floor, swathed in blankets.
The weather is taking a heavy toll on the health of the survivors in evacuation centers, many of whom are elderly. Japanese Red Cross Society doctors say there has been an increase in cases of influenza and some diarrheal diseases.
Takanori Watanabe, a Red Cross doctor from Himeji, in western Japan, arrived in Otsuchi as part of a 12-person mobile medical team which runs daily clinics around the evacuation centers.
Friday the team was based in the infirmary of Otsuchi High School, where about 700 people filled the floor space of the school’s gymnasium. The infirmary’s only two beds are being used by an elderly woman who is barely conscious and an old man attached to an I/V drip who is badly dehydrated. Most of the patients coming to the clinic are elderly and many have lost their daily medication in the disaster.
“There are a lot of people with chronic conditions and today, it’s cold so some people have fallen ill,” Dr. Watanabe said. “We’ve had a bad stomach virus going around so a lot of people are getting diarrhea and becoming dehydrated. The Red Cross teams have a limited variety of medicine and since supplies are limited patients are getting just three-day’s supply.’
Another member of Dr. Watanabe’s team, who is trained in emotional counseling, sits in the corner, quietly comforting a teenage girl who has her head in her hands and is sobbing. Everyone in Otsuchi has lost someone. A relative, a friend or a neighbor – the entire town has been affected. Helping people to overcome trauma is a major issue and teams of Japanese Red Cross Society counselors are being deployed to combat stress-related illnesses that are beginning to emerge.
Certainly, life in the evacuation centers isn’t easy for the young either. Ayumi Yamazaki, 21, sits in the large gymnasium with her older sister, niece, mother and one-and-a-half year-old daughter, Yuwa. Her house was destroyed in the tsunami. She just managed to escape, first to a nearby hill, but when the churning mass of debris brought in by the tsunami caught fire, she was forced further up the mountain.
“We get one bowl of soup or one piece of bread to share among three people,” she said. “It’s cold here, and these two (pointing to her daughter and niece) caught a cold but just now we got some medicine from the Red Cross.”
At the Otsuchi municipal council, Koso Hirano, has a massive job on his hands. By default, he assumed control of the council when the Mayor and seven other council members died when the tsunami came in.
“We always thought we were well prepared,” he said. “We built six meter (20 feet) barrages and dykes but the wave was ten meters (33 feet) high and people barely had twenty minutes to escape”, said Hirano whose main task now is ensuring that evacuees have sufficient food and water supplies.
“If there’s no petrol, I can’t get around, but I know there are old people on their own, so I am visiting them by bicycle to make sure they are OK,” said Shinya Hirakuri, a disaster management team leader.
Following days of near constant response, a number of Japanese Red Cross teams are rotating out for rest periods. On their return to Tokyo from the most affected areas in the northeast through unseasonal snow falls, they have reported that compared to the immediate aftermath of the disaster, traffic and relief activity is steadily becoming more intensive.
Although traffic is improving, it will likely remain a challenge for some time yet. As an example, to get to devastated communities in Miyagi prefecture, north of Fukushima where the damaged nuclear plant lies, requires a long detour via Niigata, further west, adding dramatically to travel times. This coupled with fuel shortages causes delays the arrival of supplies and relief workers and keeps survivors isolated.
Working hard to keep the world’s focus on the humanitarian situation despite the unfolding nuclear crisis, the Japanese Red Cross Society is forming additional plans for continuing its support to affected populations in case the exclusion zone around the trouble reactors widens.
A seven-person international advisory team, which includes an American Red Cross representative, will work throughout the weekend and beyond with the Japanese Red Cross Society to move relief and recovery operations forward as well as defining ways for the global Red Cross Red Crescent network to provide support.
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