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Calmness in the face of danger

Staff Reporter
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Japanese people are trained to cope with natural disasters

Unnikrishnan — Photo: K. Gopinathan
Unnikrishnan — Photo: K. Gopinathan

When a massive earthquake hit Japan triggering off a tsunami on March 11, the world watched in horror the destruction that the disaster caused. But, kindergarten children in Tagajo Elementary School in Miyagi prefecture remained perfectly calm. “When the quake struck, the kindergarten children lined up neatly, placed their books on their heads and crawled under the furniture for cover. Later, they all assembled in the school grounds, trooping out quietly so that their teacher could do a headcount,'' according to Unnikrishnan, a doctor with Plan International.Quoting the school authorities, Dr. Unnikrishnan said the children had stayed back at the school that fateful day to participate in a routine safety drill organised to train them to protect themselves in the event of an earthquake.

Dr. Unnikrishnan had gone to Tagajo to provide relief to the earthquake victims. Narrating his experiences there at an interaction organised by Books for Change, Actionaid and St. Joseph's College here on Saturday, he said, “Everyone in Japan can tell you exactly what to do in the event of an earthquake”.

“About 20 minutes after the first earthquake was recorded, tsunami warning was sounded soon after which the children were asked to go on to the first floor. Minutes later the first floor was partly submerged”, said Dr. Unnikrishnan. Unfortunately, three children were washed away in the 10-metre high waves. A staff member of the school, who was swept away by the waves, was found holding onto a pillar a little later. The teachers and the children rescued him using a stepladder.

The extent of damage was not limited to Tagajo. Dead fish were found seven kilometres away from the coast and nothing remains of the city today, said Dr. Unnikrishnan. Along with lives, people's mental health is at risk with children being the worst-hit since most of them are displaced, separated from parents, or living in temporary shelters.

Dr. Unnikrishnan's main concerns are not just the state of affairs in Japan at present but the future the world. “Nuclear disasters are silent killers. Even 25 years after the Chernobyl disaster, nobody has been able to go back and live there. What have we learnt in all these years?”

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