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8 P.M. in Portland, noon in Tokyo

Japan, March 17, 2011

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Peace Winds for Mercy Corps  </span>
    An evacuee in Kesennuma makes a call using a phone that Mercy Corps' Japanese partner Peace Winds has provided to allow 700 tsunami survivors be in touch with their loved ones for the first time. Photo: Peace Winds for Mercy Corps

Before I call it a night, a quick update from our partner Peace Winds in Japan. I didn't get a hold of Tomoko until about 12:30 P.M. her time, which was 8:30 P.M. for me.

The time difference is jarring. As I am about to call it a night, Tomoko is getting her day underway. When I asked her what the team's plan was for today, it was simple: just find food and supplies to fill the two helicopters they plan to send up north. But that task is becoming more and more of a challenge in Tokyo, where stores are beginning to empty. It would entail a lot of calls, persistence, persuading, running around.

On top of that, the nuclear crisis at Fukushima is still ongoing. Tokyo still lies out of the danger zone for radiation, but many people there are very concerned.

"What about all the evacuees that we're helping in Kesennuma?" I asked. "Are they also concerned about the spread of radiation?"

"Not so much, right now," said Tomoko. They don't have access to televisions or much information now, and their more pressing concerns are the fact that many are just getting one or two meager meals (often rice and tea) a day, and it's very snowy and cold. People are taking shelter at schools and other buildings, but fuel for cooking and keeping warm is in low supply.

It's been a week now, and there are worries for the evacuees' health. The Peace Winds team has been making an extra effort to procure fruit to distribute, to provide sorely lacking nutrients. On Thursday the team continued to distribute food, toiletries and warm clothing to 700 evacuees at the Kesennuma Junior High school. And an assessment team also went out into surrounding areas where the tsunami hit hard, to see who else needs help, both immediately and long-term.

"It's the biggest catastrophe we have ever had," said Tomoko. And I think of this startling statement in light of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

"Thank you for your work," I told her. "I know you must be tired."

"Thank you," she said. "For all your support." She said goodbye. As I go to bed now, I feel like I'm leaving her to the night shift.

It occurred to me, in a way that doesn't entirely make sense, that despite the world's attention, it must feel very lonely on the island of Japan right now, particularly as they deal with this frightening and unknown nuclear crisis, reminding me how important it is to keep showing our support and care and help.