Touchstone Story: Earthquake in Japan
After a devastating earthquake struck the east coast of Japan in March of 2011, Lions were on the front lines of the emergency rescue effort.
The scope of the disaster was almost unimaginable. The quake did damage, but the worst destruction came from the tsunami that followed: a more than 50-foot wall of seawater swept miles inland, wiping out entire towns as well as highways, airports and agricultural land.
More than 15,000 people died in the most destructive earthquake in Japan’s history, and hundreds of thousands lost their homes and all their possessions. Millions of Japanese lacked electricity, heat, food or clean water. To make matters worse, radiation from damaged nuclear power plants contaminated a broad swath of the region, forcing more people from their homes.
As international aid began pouring in, Lions in Japan and around the world contributed to the relief effort as early responders. The Lions Clubs International Foundation moved rapidly to provide funding for crucial services, eventually directing more than $21 million in disaster aid.
In Japan—home to more than 100,000 Lions in 3,200 clubs—Lions answered the call to serve. They turned the main Lions office in Tokyo into emergency relief headquarters and coordinated relief efforts via social media. Volunteer Lions from across Japan went to the stricken area, where they helped distribute food and supplies and assisted with evacuation efforts.
Within a day of the disaster, while highways remained closed and aftershocks continued to shake the region, Japanese clubs had distributed 20 tons of food, water and emergency supplies and set up blue Lions relief tents to house aid workers, “despite great risks and challenges to themselves,” said Past International President Eberhard J. Wirfs, who served as LCIF chairperson from 2010 to 2011.
“Lions across Japan sent us water and food,” said Masamitsu Kitamura, president of Hitachi Sakura Lions Club. Those contributions, he said at the time, “will mean the world to people who are spending time in darkness at shelters.”
Within days of the disaster, members of the New York Japanese-American Lions Club were on the streets of Manhattan collecting donations, raising $150,000 in contributions from generous New Yorkers. The club’s early donation was “critical to helping those in desperate need,” Wirfs told the New York club’s President Riki Ito in a letter.
Over time, Lions’ efforts to help ranged from purchasing major medical gear for struggling hospitals to delivering food and chopsticks to dislocated survivors.
Even as Lions helped with the immediate disaster relief, others were contributing to the reconstruction effort. In the port town of Ofunato, Lions helped restore jobs by providing cooking and refrigerating equipment that allowed the devastated food district to reopen.
With help, Japan was moving toward a distant recovery. Amid the devastation, Lions on the scene were “standing with dignity, and ready to help in the worst conditions,” said a member of the Odawara Lions Club.