Daring Red Cross rescue as typhoon batters Japan

Publié: 21 octobre 2004 0:00 CET

John Sparrow

As the worst typhoon to hit Japan in a quarter of a century weakened to a tropical depression in the Pacific yesterday, Japanese Red Cross relief operations throughout southern and central regions of the nation were helping thousands of survivors of deadly floods and landslides.

One Red Cross team rescued more than 167 people from a ship that ran aground as it tried to wait out the storm.

Typhoon Tokage has left at least 80 people dead, with nine missing and around 380 injured. Most of the dead were elderly. It was the worst storm to hit Japan since 1979.

From Nagano and Toyama on Honshu island, to Miyazaki on southerly Kyushu, Red Cross teams were dealing with the consequences of flooded, collapsed and buried homes, and casualties of a storm that brought winds close to 145 kilometres an hour. On Shikoku island, where waves broke through concrete sea defences, rescuers fanned out from Tokushima.

Landslides crushed homes in Okayama prefecture and there, and in Hyogo, an immediate response on Wednesday proved critical. From Kyoto prefecture, the Red Cross reported flooding covering huge areas near Japan’s old capital city.

A daring rescue by a relief team from the Toyama Red Cross chapter saved the crew of a training ship that crashed into breakwaters in the middle of the storm.

On board the 2,556-tonne Kaiwo Maru was a crew of 167, most of them young trainees. The Red Cross team of nine doctors, four nurses and four other rescuers steadily brought them all to shore.

High seas had swept the ship in as it sought to ride out the storm. Seventeen of the crew were injured and with waves pounding the deck none could escape alone. The injured were taken to Toyama Red Cross Hospital, four of them in serious condition.

The Japanese Red Cross – which maintains 474 disaster response teams across the country with more than 6,000 medical relief personnel – mobilized from 11 chapters, providing relief and medical assistance.

Casualties elsewhere were treated in other Red Cross hospitals. Of the 91 hospitals the Red Cross runs in Japan, 57 are specialized in helping disaster victims.

Within 24 hours of the typhoon raking the country, Red Cross staff and volunteers had distributed more than 3,600 blankets, close to 1,300 sets of hygienic items and daily necessities, and other relief goods to a further 1,500 families.

Latest government figures show almost 200 homes were destroyed, almost 9,000 partially destroyed and 49,000 flooded. Public and other buildings were damaged.

Typhoon Tokage – which means lizard in Japanese – was a record tenth typhoon to hit Japan this year. The death toll from the other nine already stood at 102, with a further 13 people missing and damage to property and infrastructure put at hundreds of millions of dollars.

However, it is clear that the human cost would have been much heavier without the disaster preparedness measures put in place by the Red Cross and the authorities.