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International Medical Corps Team in Hardest-Hit Coastal Communities Finds Severe Shortages of Food, Water, Medicines; Acute Need for Mental Health Support
Date:3/18/2011

LOS ANGELES, March 18, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- International Medical Corps' emergency response team is assessing the post-disaster needs of isolated coastal villages north of Sendai that have yet to receive humanitarian assistance. They found acute shortages of food, water and some medicines, and survivors in need of mental health support.

Many are without heat in an area where temperatures have dipped below freezing and snow has been falling – putting survivors in danger of exposure. Meantime, disrupted supply chains and fuel shortages have caused most convenience stores to close.

On Friday, International Medical Corps' team visited three heavily destroyed towns north of Sendai – one in particular, East Matsushima, was virtually washed away by the tsunami. "We saw first-hand how extensive the material and human damage of the tsunami and earthquake was," said team member Dr. Mutsuo Ikuhara. "Displaced people lost everything and require much emotional support. We are deeply moved by the strength and dignity of the people and their terrible suffering."

Based on its assessments at evacuation centers and a regional hospital where critical patients have been referred, International Medical Corps will work to fill critical gaps – including addressing the need for food, water and chronic medicines at shelters, providing psychological support, and if needed deploying four medical teams currently on standby.

In its assessment in Sendai, International Medical Corps found that although the coastal area had suffered large-scale damage to infrastructure, the main city is functioning relatively well, with electricity and regular services being restored. The team visited University Hospital, a 1,250-bed facility, and found it functioning reasonably well. There are some shortages in food, water and basic supplies, with people forming long lines for available supplies. There is also a noticeable fuel shortage.

While Japan has significant capacity to manage emergencies, the magnitude of this disaster – coupled with the threat of nuclear exposure – has been large enough to warrant international assistance. International Medical Corps is providing logistical support and technical expertise to local health authorities based on its more than 25 years of experience in disaster response, including following the 2004 Southeast Asian Tsunami and the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

The 9.0 earthquake on March 11 triggered a tsunami that buried many northern towns in a wall of water. Japanese news media report that up to 10,000 people may have been killed, but much of the north is still inaccessible. It has been described as the largest earthquake on record for Japan. Hundreds of aftershocks continue to shake the country, with a second large earthquake of 7.4-magnitude.

Thousands in the tsunami zone are without water, heat, electricity, or phone service, and some areas have been entirely cut off. On Friday, President Barack Obama said the United States was prepared to help however needed.

In addition, there have been explosions at nuclear power plants in northern Japan, compounding the crisis. While the level of radiation leaked is unknown, Japanese authorities have ordered large-scale evacuations surrounding the reactor zones.

International Medical Corps has been a leading responder to emergencies in more than 50 countries, including the 2004 Southeast Asian tsunami, 2005 Pakistan earthquake, 2010 Haiti earthquake and Pakistan floods.

Since its inception nearly 25 years ago, International Medical Corps' mission has been consistent: relieve the suffering of those impacted by war, natural disaster and disease, by delivering vital health care services that focus on training. This approach of helping people help themselves is critical to returning devastated populations to self-reliance. For more information visit:  www.InternationalMedicalCorps.org, or follow on Facebook and Twitter.


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SOURCE International Medical Corps
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