Region 'knows Japan's tsunami pain'
Survivors of recent disasters say they are united in grief with Japanese
Many people in Sri Lanka sit glued to their TV screens in shock and sympathy, watching the disaster continuing to unfold.
Survivors of the tsunami that devastated many coastal areas of the island on December 26, 2004 remember all too well what it’s like to see a huge wave suddenly wreak havoc, killing thousands, washing away homes and destroying many livelihoods.
Sri Lankans have never forgotten the aid Japan rushed to them in their hour of need following their own disaster. They are filled with grief and shock that a friend is now facing a severe test of its own.
A Japanese witness in Sendai described the scene a week after the disaster. “My relatives who live Ishinomaki could avoid the Tsunami. But they are still a waiting rescue on the roof.
“We have never experienced this strong a quake. The aftershocks continue. “Many people were washed away by the tsunami. The crematorium has been damaged and cannot be used now. It means that bodies can not be buried.”
Officials “expected 5.5m height of tsunami, but this time it was 11m. It was beyond their expectations. After the Tsunami came, 20 members were in the city hall. All members were washed away, and only 10 members were left.”
A 9.0-magnitude earthquake, the most powerful quake in Japan since records began, struck on March 11 setting of a deadly tsunami that devastated the north east coast of Japan. A damaged power plant has also triggered a nuclear crisis.
“People have attended special prayer services and a requiem Mass for the victims of the Japanese tsunami. Caritas held a special Mass on March 16 at the chapel at the Caritas Colombo head office,” said Father George Sigamoney, the national director of the Catholic Church’s social arm in Sri Lanka.
Caritas officials also went to the Japanese embassy to offer their condolences. “Japan as a nation helped us during our time of trouble,” said Father Sigamoney.
Bishop John Hsane Hgyi of Pathein Diocese, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Myanmar, said that "we have experienced the cyclone Nargis and we understand that how much the people of Japan will suffer.
“We do really thank Japan as it helps our people to overcome financial problems and able to upgrade our people’s living standard. We will continue and urge our people to pray for our friends in Japan.”
Thailand too suffered in the December 2004 tsunami and the Catholic Bishops Conference of Thailand (CBCT) has sent a sympathy letter to the Japanese Catholic Bishop Conference. “We are now in the process of receiving a needs assessment from the Japanese bishops. At the same time, many churches have been arranging special prayers and Masses for the tragedy,” said Father Pipat Rungruangkanokkul, CBCT deputy secretary general.
Bishop Banchong Chaiyara of Ubon Ratchathani , who heads the Thai bishops' commission for social development, said his commission has sent letters to all parishes and catholic organizations in the country to do fund raising to support affected persons in Japan.
Following the tsunami in 2004, Japan provided much-needed financial aid to Sri Lanka for reconstruction work. Japan has also been one of Sri Lanka’s biggest lenders, contributing US$295 million in 2009, according to a Bank of Sri Lanka report.
According to embassy reports in Tokyo there are over 12,000 Sri Lankans in Japan, some of them students.
“We are in touch with embassy officials as well as Caritas Japan, discussing what relief supplies to send and how to send them,” Father Sigamoney said.
The tsunami that struck Japan on March 11 has brought back terrifying memories of the tsunami of 2004.
“It is right to draw an analogy between ourselves and [other] countries where disasters occur. It is to raise awareness, draw lessons and understand biblical stories,” said Father Antony Parananthu Anthonippillai, parish priest of St. Peter’s Church, in Mullaitivu district, one of the hardest-hit areas in Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami.
Nearly 500 people of all faiths in the southern Indian city of Bangalore joined Archbishop Bernard Moras in a candlelit prayer for the people of Japan.
Archbishop Moras also expressed concern for the survivors, some of whom are lodged in temporary shelters in freezing temperatures, and the rescue teams.
Japanese citizens living in Bangalore and two officials from the Japanese consulate in the city also attended the meeting organized by the Karnataka Regional Catholic Bishops' Conference and the Sumanahalli (village of people of goodwill) Society, which is involved in disaster management.
Claretian Father George Kannanthanam, director of Sumanahalli Society, said a meeting which followed the inter-religious prayer decided to set up a project named 'Bless the Japanese'.
One of the main activities of the project will be to raise funds for the suffering people in Japan, Father Kannanthanam said.
A committee has been formed to initiate the fund raising campaign for the project.
The Sri Lankan government has provided US $1 million to go towards relief efforts in Japan. A medical team, comprising doctors, nurses, family health workers and pharmacists, was ready to leave for the disaster zone to care for displaced people.
A special desk has also been set up to provide Sri Lankans with information about their loved ones in Japan. Sri Lankan Airlines meanwhile laid on a special flight on March 17 for migrants wishing to return from the country.
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