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Scale of destruction startles Mercy Corps and Peace Winds officials

April 4, 2011

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Richard Read

The Oregonian
April, 2011

TOKYO — As chief executive of Portland-based Mercy Corps, Neal Keny-Guyer has seen epic destruction, suffering and recovery in disasters and wars around the globe. But the veteran aid manager struggled Monday to describe the enormity of Japan’s devastation and the challenge of responding to the triple calamities rocking this traumatized nation.

Keny-Guyer toured two heavily damaged cities in Japan’s northern coastal region over the weekend with relief workers for Peace Winds Japan, a partner agency addressing effects of the March 11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis. He and Kensuke Onishi, Peace Winds chief executive, described unique challenges helping the high number of elderly people in the tsunami zone against the backdrop of radiation spreading from Japan’s stricken reactors.

In its three decades of operation, Mercy Corps hasn’t had to deal with ongoing nuclear fallout. Keny-Guyer said aid workers unfazed by conditions elsewhere have expressed reservations about operating in Japan.