More than a week after the most powerful earthquake in Japan's history struck, thousands had already died, displaced and remained missing during the coldest time of the year.
The UK's Save the Children charity estimated that as many as 100,000 children may have been displaced by the quake and tsunami.
The gigantic waves that destroyed the nuclear plant in Fukushima—as claimed by some sources—made the situation worse. The spread of radiation made many people in Japan and abroad worry about its health effects.
Thousands of people flocked to the airports fleeing the badly-hit country. In fact, authorities in Manila noted an increase in Japanese arrivals after the alert level was raised to 5 a few days ago.
Many Japanese—young and old—and long-term foreign residents in Japan suddenly found themselves separated from their loved ones. TV footages showed children looking for their parents—some of them had died while others were missing.
The displaced people in shelter areas found themselves in a new and unfamiliar lifestyle they have never seen before probably with the exception of those who saw the Second World War and the 1995 Kobe Quake.
The grief and shock of these events could live an indelible imprint in their lives. As such they need to be addressed along with giving First Aid and provision of basic necessities like food, water and heating systems.
Abroad, we are lucky that we are not yet in that situation, but who knows? Disasters come when we least expect it. While I am writing this story, a 5.8 magnitude tremor occurred here in Manila.
A few days ago, I met up with a Tokyo-based Filipino friend, John Zinampan, who visited Manila. He came over for business. He witnessed the magnitude 9.0 quake on 11 March.
John told me that he was on the fourth floor of the building while his other relatives who also work in the same English school company were on the ninth floor when the temblor hit. They immediately rushed going down the building using the stairs. He said that he felt dizzy rushing to the first floor within a span of a few minutes.
He told me how he admired his lady boss’ quick thinking who advised his sister who was in Sendai City the time the Fukushima exploded. His boss urged his sister to immediately leave the area even though it was at the middle of the night for fear that many people will rush to leave the area when the nuclear plant were found to be leaking the following morning.
He admires the Japanese discipline. I did not see it on Japanese TV, but John told me that the convoy of cars on a highway facing the forthcoming tsunami. They did not overtake the other cars in the highways. The motorists were literally running for their lives during the time, and it was caught on camera. Amazing discipline, I must say.
I want to share some of my friends' messages so that we shall know how they cope with the tragic disaster that Japan is now undergoing.
Dennis Sun, Editor-in-Chief of Jeepney Press, in Tokyo said: "Just surviving by each day with each tremor. Wanna go home (to the Philippines) but no flights available going out of Japan."
Engineer Lan Cruz in Tokyo said: "dapat gayahin natin ang mga hapones sa disiplina sa sarili kaya ngayon ay panay papuri sa japan na kahit nilindol sila lahat ng tao ay sumusunod sa disiplina at di sila nagpapanic na kamuka sa atin na sumisigaw na kaya saludo ako di ako nagkamali na pinuntahan kong bansa me natutunan ako na maging disiplinado at di maging anay ng lipunan , salamt sadyos na me natutunan ako na galis sa mga hapon maging matatag at buo ang loob in terms of crisis."
[We should imitate the Japanese for being disciplined. That is the reason why they are receiving praises, even though they were hit by disasters, they still follow the rules and they don’t panic unlike us (Filipinos) who shout (during difficult times). I did not make a wrong decision to come here (Japan). I learned a lot in being disciplined and not to become a parasite in the society. Thank God I learned a lot from the Japanese, to be strong and fearless in times of crisis.]
Yoko Otake (Northernlight) from Sapporo, who wrote about the miraculous survival of a 16-year old boy nine days after the earthquake said: "I am having a hard time emotionally and need to take some rest from time to time. Instead of going to my doctor, I spend my time with friends from various communities I'm in, which include drinking with pals. There is a Japanese style saloon downstairs of my apartment. Tonight Karaoke.
"The people who lost their loved ones and also those who suffered from any severe earthquakes previously, RECALL the fear and pains they had at that time.
"Also living in the constant fear not knowing what'll happen next, not only for people living closer to the nuclear power plant but also for those away, like myself, it is a stressful days going on... unseen nuclear particle contamination. But I can't flee like those people and I shouldn't. Whole provinces in Japan are accepting people from the devastated areas. We need to help each other to restore our nation. I have lived enough and if, because of the contamination, my life span should be shortened, I'll accept it."