Japanese Red Cross deploys additional relief teams to cope with rising humanitarian needs after Kumamoto earthquakes
More than 1,100 patients were treated at the Kumamoto Red Cross hospital following the two earthquakes. Photo Credit: Japanese Red Cross Society

The Japanese Red Cross Society is playing a leading role in relief efforts in Kumamoto, Japan, after two major earthquakes struck the prefecture on 14 and 16 April, killing 41 people. Of the 2,000 people injured in the earthquakes, more than 1,100 were provided with medical treatment at Kumamoto Red Cross hospital from 15 April until noon on 17 April.

“The triage area in the hospital is still extremely busy, and people are being treated in the corridor because the ceiling of the emergency room has collapsed,” said Deputy Director Ms Rena Igarashi late Sunday as she explained the situation. She is one of the many Japanese Red Cross staff who are still working around the clock to provide emergency relief after the disaster.

As well as providing emergency hospital services the Red Cross has dispatched a total of 23 emergency medical teams to the affected area who take turns working 8 hour shifts.

“Two teams are providing medical services in the field, while 11 teams are now conducting assessments. Six mobile Red Cross clinics have been placed on stand-by,” said Ms Igarashi.

Landslides and damaged roads have caused serious difficulties in the deployment of a large field hospital to Minami Aso, a town which has been largely isolated since the earthquake. The field hospital is part of a Red Cross emergency response unit (ERU), which was expected to have reached its destination late Sunday afternoon.

“Our first priority is to treat physical injuries. There is still an enormous need for medical aid, but as required the Red Cross will also deploy specially trained teams to provide psychosocial support to people who are traumatized after losing relatives or property,” said Ms. Igarashi. Continuous aftershocks have made the population in Kumamoto very worried that another earthquake might strike. This anxiety is putting serious psychological stress on local people.

“After the first earthquake I was very scared,” said Ms. Kazue Kojima, a 38 year-old woman who was forced to evacuate her apartment on the 10th floor of a tall building. “Everything in the rooms was thrown out of its place, so the floor was completely covered. A heavy bookshelf fell on top of my mother while she was sleeping in her bed. By sheer luck she was not injured,” she said.

 “We were better prepared when the second earthquake struck. I had an emergency bag with everything that we would need, and all of us ran out of the house immediately,” said Ms Kojima. “I know that many people are in much bigger trouble, but the situation is really difficult. At the moment there is no electricity, no gas, no water and no functioning toilets or showers. We don’t even have enough to eat,” she said. Her family is among 385,000 households in Kumamoto who have had no water since the earthquake struck the area.

Takeo, a 77-year-old woman visiting the Kumamoto Red Cross hospital acknowledged that despite the difficulties she is much better off than very many other people in Kumamoto.

“We came here not because we are injured but because there is water and electricity. I feel much safer when I am here where I can see the Red Cross everywhere,” she said while she was resting in a chair close to the triage area in the hospital together with her 81 year-old husband, Tsuyoshi. While she was talking a minor aftershock suddenly jolted the hospital. With fear in her eyes she clasped the sides of her chair, demonstrating the enormous psychological stress that the population of Kumamoto has had to endure during this disaster.

Rather than sleeping at home, thousands of people in Kumamoto have chosen to stay outdoors in open spaces during night for fear of another strong earthquake, while some are seeking shelter in evacuation centres. To help the people who are in the most critical situation the Red Cross teams  have distributed a total of 5,000 blankets, as well as 1,000 tarpaulins, 500 family emergency kits and 200 sleeping mats. Heavy rain is being forecast in the coming days, while evacuation centres are overloaded with evacuees. For many this will mean more days of hardship and uncertainty ahead.

Hler Gudjonsson, IFRC

Medical staff at the Japanese Red Cross Kumamoto Hospital have been working around the clock to treat hundreds of injuries resulting from the April 14th and April 16th earthquakes that struck Kyushu Island in southern Japan.