Mature citizenship amid disasterOn Sunday, the third day of the series of earthquakes in Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan, locals were taking shelter at the Kumamoto Kokufu High School. Here, people used 180 chairs to write a message on the grounds: “Toilet paper, bread, SOS, water.” They wanted the rescue and media helicopters to get the message. The message was shown on the news, and water, toilet paper and rice arrived at the school that night. The people at the high school shared the supplies with others nearby.
The areas around the epicenters of the earthquakes were isolated, with no electricity or water. Major roads and bridges were shut off, and convenience stores were out of goods. As the infrastructure was not functioning, relief goods were not distributed smoothly. And people could not go home as tremors had been recurring since April 14. There have been 165 aftershocks of 3.5 magnitude or greater.
Mashiki Machi suffered major damage from the 6.5-magnitude quake, and 16,000 people were being housed in 10 shelters on April 17. The number grew by eight times in two days. There was no space left in the buildings, and blankets were spread outside as well. Elementary and middle schools housed people in gyms and classrooms, but some people had to sleep in the hallways. Until the night of April 17, 110,000 people in the Kumamoto and Oita prefectures stayed in shelters. Many people stayed in their cars for days. Unlike the 2011 Tohoku earthquake, it was locally contained, but it still resulted in serious damage.
However, there was little chaos or trouble in the shelters. People did not blame the central and local governments for late supplies of necessities. According to reporters in the field, people had to line up for about two hours to get water and food. But they were not different from those lining up for lunch at restaurants. Two women shared their food with an old man who did not get a share. A family of eight got two bowls of porridge, but they did not ask for more. In the extreme hardship, the Japanese people kept public order and showed care for each other. They had a bond. Local governments from the areas that suffered damage from past earthquakes sent supplies and relief teams. They are paying back for the help they received in the past and sharing their knowledge learned from the experiences. Japan is overcoming the challenges of nature with mature citizenship and national allegiance.
JoongAng Ilbo, Apr. 19, Page 29
*The author is the Tokyo bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.
BY OH YOUNG-HWAN