The Japan Disaster: Quake, Tsunami + Leaky Nuclear Reactor

“Hello Toots. I’m ok but shaken and scared. Aftershocks still continuing.”

I was relieved to get that SMS minutes after the Japan quake story broke from my classmate, Arlene Donaire, who had relocated to Japan around three months ago. Another friend, Cora Guidote, is still in Tokyo waiting for a flight back to Manila. Thankfully, they are both safe.

According to the DFA, there are around 1,000 Filipinos in Miyagi which is near the epicenter of the 8.9 quake. Around 5,000 Filipinos would be living in the tsunami-affected. I was surprised to learn that we have close to 300,000 citizens in Japan.  That number is much more than the population of the entire first district of Bulacan.

Philippine Ambassador Manolo Lopez faces a daunting challenge just months from the date of his appointment. Another Lopez is our point person for Osaka. Consul General Melody Lopez has her job cut out for her. The Philippine Embassy was more careful than its New Zealand counterpart in saying that for now, there appears to be no Filipino casualties in Japan. Let’s pray that it stays that way.

My initial thought when CNN flashed the video showing the sea swallowing up land, cars and buildings was — “Is this really happening?” I seem to recall similar scenes depicted in sleek expensive disaster end-of-the-world movies of late. But this was not just another bad script; there was no director about to yell “cut” from his cinematic throne. This was painfully, appallingly real.

One of the survivors interviewed on CNN said that the quake differed from previous ground-shaking events for two things: 1) it seemed to go on forever; and, 2) there was a low rumbling sound that was very strange and scary. Another survivor recalled not being able to stand and move from where she was. The ground shook that hard.

The sight of waters crawling like a boa constrictor hungry for ground gave gravitas to the word, “tsunami”. The word “tsunami” evoke hula outfits, oriental food, and balmy winds. Never again. Not after seeing that heartbreaking video of ships floating with houses. As I write this, Japan’s ambassador to the US announced that the number of fatalities was 200 and rising. Rescue and recovery efforts have barely begun. Japan’s government is also concerned over news of a leaky nuclear reactor. Communities leaving close to the nuclear facility have been relocated as experts try to fix the problem.

What happened in Japan should be a wake-up call to all of us here in the Philippines. Phivolcs Director Rolando Solidum has been very forthright in warning us of the coming of the big one. We are overdue for it, he said. Unlike Japan, our local governments are not as strict in monitoring developers, contractors, and building administrators’  on compliance with building code regulations. Corruption leads to short cuts and short cuts could lead to lives cut short in times of disasters. A tsunami alert for Manila’s coastline communities would likely result in pandemonium, because we don’t even know where the safest buildings are, and which roads to take.

We all must come out of this Japan disaster in the same way that my friend, Arlene, did. Shaken and scared. As Japan takes care of its own, let’s emulate the steps they took to prepare for the quake that just happened. Because most of their buildings were able to withstand the quake’s power. And the people seemed to know what to do, where to go. And their very own Prime Minister was on air, and on message, minutes after the earth shook.

No one doubts that Japan will soon be on its feet again. But for now, the world commiserates with numerous families affected by this devastating tragedy. We offer prayers for Japan. And in doing so, we add prayers for our own country. May the ground beneath us be firm and steady. For years and years to come.

Author: Susan Ople

Susan "Toots" Ople is the President of the Blas F. Ople Policy and Training Institute. She's an OFW and labor advocate based in the Philippines.

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  • Arlene D

    Hi Toots. First time I’d seen this…2 months after the quake…Thank you for your feature. It was great blessing for me to know that friends were praying for my safety in those times and up until now. Take care!