04/11/2011, 00.00
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New quake hits Fukushima as Church sends volunteers to tsunami-stricken areas

by David Uribe
The 7.1 magnitude quake hits about 164 kilometres northeast of Tokyo, but does not cause any major damages. A minute of silence is held across the country for the 13,000 people who died in last month’s catastrophe. Sendai diocese opens new aid centres and sends priests and volunteers to the hardest-hit areas.
Tokyo (AsiaNews) – The work of the small Japanese Church continues in tsunami-hit areas. In recent days, the Diocese of Sendai opened two new aid centres and sent priests, seminarians and lay people to back rescue operations.

Today, a quake with a magnitude of 7.1 was recorded at 5.17 pm (local time) in Fukushima Prefecture, about 164 kilometres northeast of Tokyo. The authorities issued a tsunami warning, cancelled a few hours later, and evacuated technical staff from the nuclear plant damaged in the 11 April quake. According to official with the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), the quake caused a blackout, shutting down cooling pumps for a few hours at three reactors. However, they insist everything is under control. Yukio Edano, a spokesperson for the Japanese government, said that the evacuation zone would be widened beyond the existing 30-km radius.

Today’s quake comes a month to the day after the 11 March event that devastated the eastern coast of the country. Today the country also held a minute of silence to mark the tragedy. According to the latest figures, the death toll now stands around 13,000. Here is an account by Fr David Uribe, a Guadalupe missionary in Tokyo.

In the Diocese of Sendai, the work of priests and lay Catholics in favour of people affected by the earthquake, tsunami and radioactive leak continues despite problems associated with aftershocks and the widening disaster area, which now covers an area of 1,543 km2.

A month after the catastrophe, there is a more accurate picture of the number of Christian victims and the extent of material damages. With the cooperation of the Diocese of Osaka, a network of contacts has been set up linking various priests and missionaries active in the various parishes of Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures. At present, information can only be exchanged via mobile phone. In many areas, it is still impossible to determine the actual level of difficulties residents face.

Priests, seminarians and lay Catholics from different dioceses of Japan have volunteered in the areas already reached by rescue operators. On 2 April, officials from Sendai Diocese opened a new aid centre in the city of Kamaishi (Iwate prefecture), in addition of those already operating in the cities of Sendai, Shiogama and Ishinomaki.

In the next few days, Fr Marco Antonio de La Rosa, a Guadalupe missionary, in cooperation with Fr José Maria Vianney Uesugi, from the Sapporo Diocese, will open a base camp in the parish of Miyako (Iwate). From here, the two clergymen will bring aid to the villages of Taro and Yamada, both razed to the ground by the tsunami. Seminarians and religious from the dioceses of Fukuoka and Oita are already operating in the area.

Meanwhile, the situation in the towns near the Fukushima nuclear plant is getting worse. Here, radioactive leaks have compounded the problems caused by the tsunami and the quake.

According to the Catholic weekly Katorikku Shinbun, 50,000 of the 70,000 residents in the cities of Minami Soma and Hamarachi, which are situated some 30 kilometres from the plant, have already left because of the radioactive leak.

In the two towns, the tsunami killed more than 300 people; an additional 1,100 are still missing. About 1,800 homes have been destroyed.

Takano San, a Catholic from Hamarachi parish, said that even people living in the area outside the restricted area have left. On Sundays, only four people attend Mass. Before the quake, they were around 20.

In his view, people are afraid of radiation and have lost confidence in the authorities and scientists who are no longer able to control the situation.

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See also
Tokyo, huge radioactive leak from Fukushima reactor
Fukushima, radiation levels on a par with Chernobyl
Death toll climbs amid progress at Fukushima
Fukushima: signs of progress, but alarm over contaminated water, food and milk
Let us help the Japanese people with our witness, missionary says


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