Disaster cleanup in Japan

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

Audio Transcript:

LISA MULLINS : This is The World, co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH in Boston. It was two weeks ago that Japan was hit by a devastating earthquake and tsunami. Today, officials said the death toll from the disaster has now climbed to more than 10,000. With many people still missing the toll was destined to keep climbing. In a moment, we are going to have the latest on the on-going nuclear crisis of the Fukushima Power Plant. First though, the recovery effort. Work has already started to clear the debris that was left behind by the tsunami. Crews are erecting pre-fabricated houses for those who were displaced by the disaster, still there's a long way to go. Kathy Mueller is the spokeswoman for the International Federation of Red Cross Red Crescent Societies. She has been traveling around the most affected areas in North-East Japan. I know you are on the road Kathy; Tell us what you've seen so far in what we know is an enormous task.

KATHY MUELLER : It definitely is an enormous task ahead for the authorities of the agencies here ââ?¬ ¦[?] said in your intro. There is progress being made, the roads have been cleared so there is access; I saw dump trucks being brought in so, they are starting to load up some of the debris and cart it away. They are putting up the light standards again so electricity can be restored. So far, from what I've seen, the authority seems to be pretty much on top of it as much as they can be.

MULLINS : What is your main mission with now with the Red Cross Red Crescent Societies?

MUELLER : We are now out of the emergency phase and we are moving into the recovery phase. So one's basically here to help people get back on their feet. That means working with the government to see how we can help with the pre-fabricated housing in providing food, in providing sanitation supplies, clothing, that sort of thing. And it's not just the physical needs, we are also looking after the mental trauma that people have experienced because obviously it's been an horrendous sort of deal. The Japanese are known for being stoic and very proud and dignified people, and we're seeing that in the evacuation centers, there's not been anybody complain, anybody angry, anybody crying, I am quite impressed actually with how everyone is handling it.

MULLINS : Can you give me example of, maybe, your approach to someone who you know does not want to tell you specifically what they need; they don't want to, perhaps, cry in front of you, what your conversations there are like.

MUELLER : In talking to the Japanese Red Cross or those who are trained in the Psycho-Social Care, they tell me that they start by asking the person about their physical ailments, and then once they get them talking, then they start probing deeper, trying to get the person to talk a little bit more about how they are actually feeling. It's not an easy process, it's not a short term process and it could take months.

MULLINS : Is there a memory that stands out of your encounter perhaps with one particular person?

MUELLER : Yeah. We visited this shrine today where 22 people are staying, most of them members of one family. And, around this shrine, utter devastation, everything is absolutely gone. This one particular family, they escaped basically with what they were wearing on their backs and, after visiting and spending some time with this family, this little girl, 12yr old girl came up and gave me this little origami that she had made and, it's things like that, like that's a memory that I am going to take with me and I will take that origami home with me back to Canada and, it's going to stick with me forever.

MULLINS : What kind of origami was that?

MUELLER : A bird, a swan, and the bright, bright pink; like fuscia pink. We were very touched, I think.

MULLINS : [laughs]

MUELLER : And then I was also asking her, you know, what do you miss most about everything that you've lost? And there's this rock-band here in Japan that's very popular, and she had a poster of them in her room, but the name interestingly of this rock-band when translated into English means 'The Storm'. So I find that quite riveting.

MULLINS : Kathy Mueller, thank you very much.

MUELLER : Thanks very much Lisa.

MULLINS : Kathy Mueller of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies speaking to us on the recovery effort in Northern Japan.