A reporter caught in Hurricane Sandy looks to Asia for comparisons

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Aaron Schachter: I'm Aaron Schachter in for Marco Werman. This is "The World". They're cleaning up in southern England right now after a major storm lashed to region with hurricane-force winds and heavy rains. Authorities have blamed the storm for a number of deaths. Britain's pain today comes almost a year after super-storm Sandy left a tragic mark on New York and New Jersey. Life just hasn't been the same since for many in that area. Among them Jen Poyant. She's a senior producer with our sister PRI program - The Takeaway. Last October 29th, she was at work in Manhattan when the storm devastated the neighborhood where she lived - the Rockaways in Queens. She still remembers her shock when she finally made it home after the storm.

Jen Poyant: It really did look like a war-zone. It was difficult coming back from Manhattan after the storm because it had just been inundated with debris and sand and soot to the point where people were walking around for days just listless, trying to figure out where to begin. And then there are many that have managed to get home like me. I was only away for a month and a half and I was able to get back into my home and get moving again very quickly. I was lucky.

Schachter: Aside from you getting back into your home, there was another positive outcome from this experience. You went on a fellowship with a place called the East-West Center based in Honolulu and it's a fellowship on national disasters.

Poyant: Yes, so as a way to process my own experience watching my own community go through this, I decided very quickly to apply for this fellowship that studies disaster management around the world, so it compared Hurricane Sandy and the response and the recovery process. That's really just beginning in New York to the Sendai region in Japan where the great earthquake happened in 2011 and then also the Great Sichuan Earthquake that killed so many people back in 2008.

Schachter: Now, in all these places, the New York metropolitan area, China, and Japan, people had to rely a great deal on government help. How did that play out in those different places?

Poyant: I think in New York the expectation is very high. It's "Get me the money now to rebuild my home. I can't believe it's been a year and I can't wait through this bureaucratic nonsense." I think historically the Japanese culture has the high level of trust with the government and only over the past two and a half years of watching mistake after mistake with the handling of both Fukushima as well as the immediate aftermath of the tsunami have residents and voters managed to start speaking out about their frustrations and what they need. But there is a measured expression of frustration with the Japanese government I think for the first time. I really have not witnessed that before in my time in Japan in the past. And then of course in China, you don't really talk about the government and what the expectation is. You just take what you can get.

Schachter: And China and Japan are a little further out from their earthquake tragedies. How do things look there?

Poyant: I was mostly struck in China by the incredible pace of development. I was in Chengdu and then we traveled out to some smaller towns out in the mountains in the Sichuan province and they do manage to keep some buildings. Like I went to a middle school where children had died and there were many reports after the Great Earthquake in Sichuan about how the building codes there had been lax enough to create these so called "tofu buildings" that didn't have the right support structures within their concrete. So they managed to keep some of those destroyed buildings as a monument to the people that died and as a reminder. I'd say Japan, the debris is gone, but the buildings are still gone as well in many cases and you can tell that there's still a lot of scars to deal with regarding on recovery on the Japanese landscape.

Schachter: Now, Jen, you trip to China and Japan was obviously a professional one. You're a journalist. But what did you learn? What did you bring back to the situation in Rockaways where you live?

Poyant: I have to say going to Japan and China after experiencing and living and watching my own neighborhood going through a natural disaster, it really became clear to me that we're entering a new era where natural disasters are going to become somewhat common. And I think this fellowship really comes down to understanding how human beings work together in these events and whether or not there's a way to organize it better each time.

Schachter: Jen Poyant is a senior producer at our partner program The Takeaway with PRI. Jen, thank you for your time.

Poyant: Thank you. I'm glad to be here.