Few countries know how to deal with widespread disaster better than Japan, and on Thursday, Japanese firefighter Junichi Matsuo told his Yakima Valley counterparts what it was like to respond to the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 13,000 people, reports emergencymgmt.com.
“That was the first time I’d ever seen such a terrible situation,” said Matsuo, a veteran firefighter with decades of emergency response experience.
But the disaster also held lessons on the importance of community planning and community involvement in responding to a crisis, he said.
The magnitude 9.0 earthquake that struck March 11, 2011, was the most powerful recorded earthquake ever to hit Japan and the fourth-strongest worldwide since modern record-keeping began in 1900.
The earthquake set off tsunami waves that reached as high as 133 feet and wiped out entire towns.
Matsuo, a deputy fire chief for the Sanda City Fire Department in south-central Japan, was dispatched nearly 600 miles to the northeast to help with the aftermath and reconstruction.
Despite their best efforts, the sheer magnitude of the disaster was too much for emergency responders alone, but luckily they had some extra help, Matsuo told a gathering of the Yakima County fire chiefs and members of the Yakima Fire Department.
That’s because after the 1995 Kobe earthquake, which left around 5,000 people dead and devastated the city, many places across Japan began enacting community-based disaster response training, he said.
In his experience, Matsuo said that the vast majority of survivors after a catastrophe like the 2011 tsunami are rescued by their neighbors and other civilians from the community.
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