Volunteer Ministers Bring Aid in Wake of Japan Earthquake
- A 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck Japan, destroying thousands of homes, critical roadways and infrastructure.
- VMs directly helped more than 3,800 people sheltering in evacuation centers.
On January 1, 2024, at 4:10 p.m., as people across Japan were partaking in the New Year’s Day tradition to visit shrines, a massive 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck the Noto Peninsula. It was the strongest earthquake recorded in the region in 40 years. Thousands of buildings and homes were destroyed by the tremors and subsequent fires that broke out. Roadways split open and were blocked by landslides and debris, leaving communities cut off. Other vital infrastructure suffered damage, including power outages that left tens of thousands of people without electricity.
The threat of tsunamis prompted the government to issue immediate evacuation orders in the Ishikawa Prefecture, an area impacting 97,000 people on the west coast. Schools, sports halls and community centers were used as evacuation centers. Although a catastrophic tsunami did not materialize and the majority of people could return to their homes, aftershocks and cold winter weather hampered relief efforts, leaving 31,800 people displaced and in need of shelter and assistance.
The IAS immediately provided an emergency grant enabling a team of VMs to travel to the impacted area just days after the disaster struck. The first team of experienced disaster response VMs included IAS Freedom Medal Winner Binod Sharma, who led the VM disaster response activities in his native Nepal following the devastating earthquake of 2015. IAS Freedom Medal Winner Yuzuru Ogura also joined the disaster relief activities, which were led by Makoto Enatsu, the in-charge of the VM group in Japan.
The VMs were directed to evacuation shelters in Himi and Nanao cities and proceeded to gather materials and recruit more volunteers to help clean up damaged homes and prepare and deliver food. When those receiving meals learned the volunteers had traveled from Tokyo, they expressed deep gratitude for the help. With cold winter temperatures, warm, nourishing meals were greatly appreciated. When the VMs served miso soup to members of the Self Defense Forces, one officer was moved to tears with gratitude.
VMs delivered more than 300 Nerve Assists to evacuees and staff at the centers. The director of one facility said he had been unable to sleep since the earthquake. After receiving an assist, he said his body felt lighter and he was so relaxed, he fell asleep right then and there. Another person who received an assist said, “My body feels better. I can’t believe I can receive something like this for free!” One man expressed that he was finally able to lift his arm, which had been in pain for years, and could also see more clearly. As word spread about the assists, other evacuees started requesting them and the VMs trained the evacuation center staff so they could continue to help more people in their care.
To date, the VM team in Japan has provided one-on-one help to more than 3,800 people impacted by the earthquake and removed thousands of pounds of debris from damaged homes. Over the past four years, VMs worldwide have provided 9 million hours of one-on-one help and frontline help at 45 disaster sites across 20 nations.
If you or someone you know would like to help at disaster sites, contact the VM Unit International at:
Phone: +1 (323) 960-1949