Japan’s quake recovery offers tough lessons for Turkey – Orange County Register

By Foster Klug

TOKYO – Mountains of debris and twisted metal. death on an unimaginable scale. grief. Fury. Relief to have survived.

What remains after a natural disaster so violent that it tears apart the foundations of a society? What remains over a decade later, even if the rest of the world moves on?

Similarities between the disasters that unfolded in Turkey and Syria this week and the triple disaster that struck northern Japan in 2011 could provide a glimpse of what the region may face in the years to come. It combines the sheer magnitude of the collective psychological trauma, loss of life and material destruction.

The total number from Monday’s 7.8-magnitude earthquake rose to over 23,000 deaths on Friday, as authorities announced the discovery of new bodies. That has already eclipsed the more than 18,400 deaths from the disaster in Japan.

This magnitude 9.0 earthquake occurred on March 11, 2011 at 2:46 p.m. Not long after, cameras along the Japanese coast captured the wall of water hitting the Tohoku region. The tremor was one of the strongest on record, and the tsunami it created swept away cars, homes, office buildings and thousands of people, and caused a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Huge boats were abandoned miles from the sea in the towering rubble of former cities, cars tumbled on their sides like toys among the ruined streets and ruined buildings.

Many wondered if the area would ever go back to how it was before.

A key lesson from Japan is that a disaster of this magnitude never really ends – a lesson Turkey itself knows well from a 1999 earthquake in the country’s northwest that killed about 18,000 people. Despite talk of reconstruction, the Tohoku earthquake has left a deep wound in national consciousness and people’s landscapes.

Take the death toll.

Deaths directly linked to the Turkey quake will level off in the coming weeks, but it’s unlikely to be the end.

Japan, for example, has recognized thousands of other people who later died from stress-related heart attacks or poor living conditions.

And even though hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent on rebuilding Japan, some things will never come back — including a sense of place.

Before the quake, Tohoku was full of small towns and villages surrounded by farms, the harbors bustling with fleets of fishing boats. It is one of the wildest and most beautiful coasts in Japan.

Today, when most of the debris from the earthquake and tsunami has been cleared away and many roads and buildings have been rebuilt, there are still large expanses of empty space, places where no buildings have been erected, farms have not been replanted. Businesses have spent years rebuilding depleted customer bases.

Just as workers once did in Japan, an army of rescuers in Turkey and Syria are digging through destroyed buildings, piercing through bent metal, powdered concrete and exposed wires for survivors.

What comes after that won’t be easy.

Initially in Japan there was palpable pride in the country’s ability to endure disasters. People stood quietly in long, orderly lines for food and water. They posted notices describing their loved ones on message boards in destroyed cities in the hope that rescue workers would find them.

After what locals dubbed the Great East Japan Earthquake, the dead in Tohoku were left behind by piles of rubble, neatly wrapped in taped blankets, waiting to be taken away by workers who were still combing the rubble for survivors.

The protracted reconstruction has called this resolve into question. Work has been inconsistent and painfully slow at times, hampered by government incompetence, petty squabbles and bureaucratic wrangling. Almost half a million people have been displaced in Japan. Tens of thousands have still not returned home.

The issue has seeped into politics, particularly as debate rages on over how to deal with the aftermath of the catastrophic meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Years later, fears of radiation are spreading, and some areas of northern Japan have installed radiation counters in parks and other public areas. Officials and experts are still undecided on how to remove the highly radioactive molten fuel residue in the reactor.

The Turkish government has been criticized for years of failing to enforce modern building codes despite allowing a property boom in earthquake-prone areas, and for being slow to respond to the disaster.

The years since 2011 have seen another failure, an official in Japan has acknowledged: an inability to help those traumatized by what they have experienced.

About 2,500 people are missing across Tohoku, and people are still searching for the remains of their loved ones. A man has a diving license and has been diving weekly for years to find evidence of his wife.

Photo albums, clothing and other belongings of the victims are still occasionally unearthed.

Perhaps the most telling connection, however, is the keen empathy of those who have survived a cataclysmic disaster and the gratitude to see strangers alleviate their suffering. A group of about 30 rescue workers from Turkey were in the hard-hit city of Shichigahama for about six months in 2011 for search and rescue operations.

The locals of Shichigahama have not forgotten this. They have now started a fundraiser for Turkey. A man said this week he cried as he watched the scenes in Turkey, recalling his city’s ordeal 12 years ago.

“They bravely walked through the rubble to help find victims and bring their bodies to their families,” Mayor Kaoru Terasawa told reporters from the Turkish aid workers who came to Japan. “We’re still so grateful to them, and we want to do something to reciprocate and show our gratitude.”

AP reporter Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this story.

Foster Klug, the AP’s news director for Japan, Korea, Australia and the South Pacific, reported from Tohoku after the 2011 quake and has been reporting on Japan since 2005.

https://www.ocregister.com/2023/02/10/japans-quake-recovery-offers-hard-lessons-for-turkey/ Japan’s quake recovery offers tough lessons for Turkey – Orange County Register

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