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Tzu Chi Japan Sets Up Relief Centre after Catastrophic Quake

A major earthquake struck the eastern coast of northeast Japan at 2.46pm local time on 11 Mar and set off a tsunami that left hundreds people dead and destroyed houses, cars, factories and crops. The magnitude-9 temblor was the largest recorded quake in the country's history. The Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation has set up an emergency command center in Hualien, Taiwan to monitor the disaster zone and coordinate relief efforts.

Volunteers of Tzu Chi Japan offered hot drinks and shelter for people trapped on the streets. The mega earthquake shut down Tokyo's subway system and cut off phone lines, leaving people far from home and unable to contact their families. (Photo provided by Tzu Chi Japan)

At the wake of the disaster, the Hualien headquarters activated a global network of contacts, informing Tzu Chi chapters in Taiwan, Shanghai, Indonesia, and the Philippines to take all necessary precautions in the face of tsunami warnings. Aftershocks were also being watched for closely.

Master Cheng Yen held a conference call with the Tzu Chi chapter in Japan when communication resume at 5.40pm and was glad to learn that all Tzu Chi members in Tokyo are safe. The Master conveyed her utmost concern for all the citizens of Japan, including the members of Rissho Kosei-Kai, a Buddhist organization, and hopes that Tzu Chi members in the Asia-Pacific region can establish contact with each other to confirm safety.

Less than four hours after the quake, the Foundation’s Tokyo branch transformed its chapter house to a relief centre and provided people with hot food, snacks, Internet service to contact their loved ones, a place to rest and sleep and comfort for those in shock. Two had spent the night in the centre because they lived too far away.

The volunteers also checked the safety of their fellow members in the affected areas. All those in Tokyo, Kanagawa and Kansai reported in safely. But it was impossible to contact those close to the epicenter of the quake, in Utsunomiya and Gunma and Yamanashi prefectures. The volunteers will continue to try to make contact with them. Through the Internet, they contacted other Japanese foundations to convey the deep concern of Master Cheng Yen.

At the Foundation’s headquarters in Hualien, an emergency command centre has been established on the day the quake struck and videoconferences with the Tokyo branch are constantly held to keep tabs on the disaster situation and collect information for impending aid relief.

Over the weekend, the headquarters has prepared 50 tons of instant rice and 17,000 environmentally friendly blankets and contacted several airlines about shipping these goods to the Japan. The first batch of supplies which include 3.5 tons of instant rice, 1 ton of nut food and 5000 blankets will be sent to Tokyo on Monday, 14 Mar on the same plane flying the rescue task force deployed by Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

While volunteers in Japan are working with a local bank to issue debit cards to survivors, the Taiwan headquarters was also in full swing preparing the clothing that Japan's government has appealed for.

During the daily meeting of volunteers on Saturday (12 Mar) morning, Master Cheng Yen stressed that the planet is sending mankind warnings and urged everyone to pray for Japan. She also emphasized the urgency to adopt vegetarian diet for the sake of the planet and the need for greater self-reflection among human race. Towards the end of her speech, the Master expressed her earnest wish for mankind to join blessings together to reduce the incidence and impact of disasters.

Relief supplies preparation was in full swing in the Hualien headquarters on Sunday, 13 Mar. The first shipment will be transported by air to Tokyo on 14 Mar. (Photo provided by Tzu Chi Taiwan)

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