The reality of this tragedy kicked in for me a week later when news reports started announcing the numbers of those that were dead or missing. With more than 8,000 people officially dead and 12,000 people missing, it was finally the impact of the death toll that did me in. To think that 20,000 people are missing or presumed were wiped off the face of the earth in one day was mind boggling to me.
The 9/11 Terrorist Attackers killed nearly 3,000 people, Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and left nearly 2,000 people dead, and the 2010 Chile earthquake took the lives of over 500. All of these tragedies, including Japan's, happened in developed countries yet the magnitude of devastation, both on the psyche of its citizens and economically, has humbled us all.
To put things into perspective, I looked back in history at two recent earthquakes in lesser developed regions of the world that both killed more than 300,000 people: the 2004 Indian Ocean (9.0 magnitude affecting Thailand and Indonesia) and the 2010 Haiti Earthquakes (7.0 magnitude). While the natural disasters in New Orleans and Chile are no less in scope, they were both in more developed countries and the loss of life never reached into the tens of thousands. Would fewer people have died if Haiti, Thailand and Indonesia were more developed countries? The possibilities are endless and I'm sure that scientists will discuss this for many years to come, but we can't ignore the fact that natural disasters and man-made ones (fires, nuclear and biological) are getting to levels we haven't seen in centuries (the Black Plague in Europe, volcanic eruptions that ruined Pompeii, etc.).
All of the natural disasters and massive loss of life that have occurred in the last five or six years were tragic, but they never directly affected me. Sure, I gave money to the causes and followed the news to see what would happen next, but I didn't know a soul that lost their life. This tragedy touched my heart, because I felt for the people in the country that I called my home for two years and that I claim as my second home.
I had just visited Japan for my first return visit last summer. While I was there, wherever I went, food was in abundance, people enjoyed festivals and school children were playing and laughing. That's quite a contrast to what my Japanese friend reports from Tokyo a week after the earthquake hit when I checked on her:
Gina, I'm scared!! But so far we believe that we are okay. I wear a cap, a maskThis is just one friend's account, but when I checked on other Japanese friends based around the world and in Japan, they seemed confused about why the Western media seemed to sensationalize the tragedy and likened it to Chernobyl. I'm not sure if I should be more worried for my Japanese friends or not, but I'll leave you with that same friend's last email, which should tell you how she feels about the atmosphere in Japan right now:
and gloves when I go out. We will get out of Tokyo if we see a clear danger.
Toilet paper rolls and rice are sold out at all the stores. So I took one
roll from a hospital. Now we have enough since my stepdad send them from Osaka.
There are several kinds of food we cannot find but we're much much better
than what disaster victims are going through.
Thanks for checking on me!We want to help victims but we can’t even go there.I wonder how long it will take until we recover.I’m so worried that this will cause a huge damage on our economy and our lives.Many stores and restaurants are still closed.Our lives have been stopped or being very slow. I can’t wait till we’re allowed to laugh with friends, enjoy our meals with beer and wine.