When the ground violently shook and the light fixtures nearly fell from the ceiling, Yoshi Takeda immediately knew another earthquake was rattling Japan. What he didn’t know right away was the extensive damage that would be caused by an ensuing tsunami and nuclear disaster.
“In Japan, we have an earthquake once a month,” Takeda said. “But from the start it was a little bit different.”
From his medical clinic in Tokyo, the Japanese doctor – who was a researcher for 17 years at the Medical College of Georgia – didn’t even feel the worst of the shaking. He walked home that night because the Tokyo train system stalled, and reached his wife, Chika Takeda, who lives in Martinez, by cellphone. After more than three hours walking home, he went to bed still unaware of the widespread devastation.
Takeda is one of several local people with ties to the disaster one year ago Sunday that wiped out Japanese towns and claimed thousands of lives. In the year since the 9.0 magnitude earthquake that triggered a deadly tsunami, Japan has just begun cleaning up the aftermath of the broken nuclear reactor at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.
Dr. Dan McCabe, a researcher at Savannah River National Laboratory, has been a small yet vital part of helping the Japanese government begin cleanup of radiation released into the environment near Fukushima. McCabe and three others from SRNL contributed their expertise of nuclear remediation and waste treatment to a team from the U.S. Department of Energy that responded to the aftermath.
“The Japanese estimate this will take decades to do,” McCabe said. “There is a sense of urgency, but they realize it is an enormous task that has not been done before.”
The release of radioactive materials from the plant forced evacuations of surrounding areas soon after. On March 28, Takeda traveled to Nihonmatsu, Fukushima, to provide emergency medical relief for nursing home evacuees from a city near the nuclear plant.
For 48 hours, Takeda was the only doctor for about 125 elderly people. In the absence of a fully operating hospital and the patients’ regular medications, he helped administer the best care possible.
Takeda remembers eating in a restaurant that wasn’t reduced to rubble like many buildings, but could only serve rice and noodles. Shipments of meat and vegetables were made difficult by broken roads and inoperable train systems.
Sue Ishii, a native of Japan who lives in Augusta, fears for relatives who live on a farm near Fukushima. Possible land contamination has crippled their livelihood as farmers, she said.
“The government says stay inside the house,” Ishii said. “But if you can’t go outside to farm, how do you make a living?”
For Ishii, it’s difficult living halfway around the globe from her relatives and home country during a time of disaster. She begs her relatives to come live in Augusta, but they refuse.
“This will be hurting for a long time. It’s not so quickly that they can recover,” she said.
East Japan still struggles to return to normalcy, Takeda said. Many live in temporary government housing and are unemployed. For those distanced from the devastation, the memory faded until newspapers and television programs started recounting the earthquake in recent weeks.
“For three or four months, the memory was still fresh,” Takeda said. “But if they’re not in east Japan, they are forgetting.”