First Volunteers to Start Habitat for Humanity Response Operation in Japan

27th April, 2011

Volunteers to Clear House Debris in Northern Iwate Prefecture

TOKYO, 27th April 2011: Twelve Habitat for Humanity volunteers from universities across Japan will be travelling to Ofunato, in Iwate Prefecture, this week to start work. This marks the beginning of Habitat’s response operation in Japan.

Iwate prefecture, about 500 km. north of Tokyo, is one of the three areas most affected by the devastating earthquake and tsunami on 11th March. Ofunato had a thriving fishing industry until tsunami 23.6 m. (76-ft.) high waves wiped everything away. Nearly 300 people were reported killed and some 3,500 out of 15,100 homes destroyed.

The Habitat volunteers have given up their “Golden Week” national holiday time to pull out wet floor insulation, tatami mats (traditional Japanese flooring) and clear mud from dozens of houses in Ofunato so that families can leave evacuation centers and return home.

This volunteer trip is expected to be the first of many, according to Rick Hathaway, Habitat for Humanity International’s Asia-Pacific vice president. “Since the tragedy struck, we have been working with the government and other partners on how best to develop a long-term response operation even as the authorities were continuing with the relief and rescue phases.”

“As shelter experts we are providing the know-how, volunteers, tools, financial and logistical support to get families out of evacuation centers and back to their homes.”

Iwate prefecture is north of the badly damaged Fukushima nuclear power plants and the surrounding area that has been evacuated.

The 9.0-magnitude earthquake that struck on Friday 11th March was the largest to hit Japan since recordings began. The earthquake triggered extremely large tsunami waves with heights over 20 m. (65 ft.) which struck minutes after the quake, in some cases travelling up to 10 km. (6 miles) inland. Over 14,000 people died and 11,000 people are still missing.

The earthquake struck 130 km. (81 miles) east of Sendai city, Japan, and this, plus the subsequent tsunami, wrought massive destruction along the Pacific coastline of Japan’s northern islands. A third, and still unfolding disaster, is nuclear radiation caused by explosions from nuclear plants damaged by the earthquake and tsunami.