Marines Aid Secluded Japanese Towns

Residents Facing Freezing Temperatures

Marine helicopters sweep along the coast of northern Japan in search of secluded towns and villages in need of aid. With residents lacking clean water and facing freezing temperatures at night, the Marine’s arrival in each area brings welcomed supplies to those left in the cold.

“A lot of the towns and villages along the northeast coast are at quite a distance away from the major cities, so that is the area where we are focusing now,” said Capt. Caleb Eames, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) public affairs officer.

Speaking via phone from off the coast of Japan, Eames has been part of the relief efforts in Japan, joined by more than 2,200 Marines and Sailors in his unit. Other U.S. military units are providing aid in different parts of the counrty.

With helicopters and amphibious vehicles ready on hand, the 31st MEU has unique capabilities that give it access to areas not easily reached by roads. The 9.0 earthquake and tsunami on March 11 left coastal towns in ruins, and the 31st MEU is actively trying to reach isolated communities that have lacked supplies since the disaster.

“We’re kind of designed to be able to operate from the sea along the coast, and so that’s what we’re doing in that area,” Eames said.

With many roads rendered impassible by gaps—or having been completely washed away—Miyako in northeast Japan received little aid prior to the 31st MEU’s arrival on March 21. The Marines brought 800 gallons of water and 768 blankets, which were distributed by the local Japanese Self-Defense Force, according to the U.S. Marine Corps News.

In Japan, there are 2.1 million residents without water. Tap water was labeled unsafe for infants after radiation contamination was found. Many areas also face freezing temperatures, and half a million residents are left without electricity, according to a March 23 report from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Eames noted that water and blankets were top priorities for the MEU to provide. Although Japanese forces are on the ground at nearly every disaster site, bringing a constant stream of supplies is difficult for them.

“At night it’s sub-zero temperatures and quite a bit of snow on the ground, so for people who have lost everything in their homes, you can imagine that the opportunity to get warm is a real significant thing,” he said.

For the 31st MEU, providing clean water is also a suitable task, since they are able to make clean water right on the ship.

Preparing for Disaster

Oddly enough, when the disaster hit, the 31st MEU was heading for Indonesia for a scheduled exercise on earthquake and tsunami disaster relief. Japan was also scheduled to join the training, the ASEAN Regional Forum Disaster Relief Exercise.

“The day prior to that starting we got the news that this actual disaster had happened and we received orders to quickly turn around and head for Japan,” Eames said.

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Photo Credit: Official Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Garry J. Welch