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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Japanese Earthquake hits Close to Home

They look like scenes from a James Cameron movie: Devastating earthquakes and tsunamis, uncontrollable fires, thousands of dead bodies washing up on shore, villages washed away forever and even nuclear fallout.

The earthquake in Japan was an epic event. To give you an idea of the scope of this tragedy, an earthquake of this magnitude has not hit the plate boundary of Japan in an estimated 1,200 years. The 9.0 earthquake, the fifth strongest one on record, shook for almost five minutes straight, was followed by over 400 aftershocks and was felt 1,242 miles from the epicenter, approximately the distance between New Orleans and Minneapolis, MN. The death count is “at least 10,000” according to Japanese officials. The ensuing tsunami was a 33 foot wall of water that washed more than a mile onto the Japanese coast, washing entire towns completely off of the map. Five hundred thousand people were evacuated, 117,000 buildings were damaged and 15,000 of those were completely destroyed. The estimated cost is believed to be 248 billion American dollars.

While watching the news weeks ago and seeing the destruction and carnage brought upon by the earthquake in Japan, I thought to myself, “I sure am happy that’s not happening where I live.”

All of a sudden it hit me. Six years ago that WAS happening where I live! In 2005, the whole world watched as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita slammed into the Gulf Coast and completely altered our way of life. Category 5 hurricane winds, communities washed away forever by storm surge, buildings toppled, corpses floating through the streets of New Orleans, military helicopters passing overhead, widespread power outages and tens of thousands of fellow Louisianans were left homeless. And it happened in our own backyard.

Luckily for us here in Terrebonne and Lafourche Parishes, we were spared the brunt of the storms’ fury. Our neighbors, many of whom are also friends, were not so lucky. Several dear friends of mine from Orleans, Plaquemines and St. Bernard Parishes were left without homes. Entire communities, schools, churches and homes were completely destroyed. Families were spread throughout the country as they were sent to all corners of the U.S.

A friend of mine from Chalmette had four feet of mud and a dead horse in his backyard when he went home. His dad cut through the roof with an axe and was rescued from the top of his home. His mom now lives in Dallas, his sister in Lafayette and his dad in Mississippi. Another friend from Chalmette had 30 feet of water over his house. Not one shingle was missing because the floodwater completely submerged his home.

Despite the well-chronicled missteps of the local and federal governments during the response and relief efforts, the response from non-government relief was unprecedented. An estimated 90 countries throughout the world participated in relief efforts, including a 500 million dollar contribution from Kuwait. The Red Cross mobilized the largest relief effort in their 124 year history, sending 74,000 volunteers, providing 160,000 evacuees (not refugees!) with shelter and dispensing 7.5 million hot meals. Private donations from the United States totaled a staggering 3.6 billion dollars in donations and pledges.

During these dark days in Louisiana history, Japan was there to help us. The same Japanese people suffering today pledged more than 1.5 million dollars in private donations for our people in 2005. The Japanese government donated 1 million dollars in cash and relief supplies to the American Red Cross to help in the effort. Japanese companies such as Honda Motor Corporation, Hitachi and Nissan donated a combined 7 million dollars. One Japanese man, Takashi Endo, donated 1 million dollars of his own money to Katrina relief. All of this was given to help people they will never know who live tens of thousands of miles away.

With that being said, I am challenging all of you to donate to the Japanese relief effort to help these people that you will never know, these people that live tens of thousands of miles away. Whether you can give one dollar, five dollars or 1 million dollars, please find a way to reach out to these people who are experiencing the same kind of suffering that our people were living through just six short years ago. If any group of people should appreciate helping others in times of need, between the storms and the BP oil spill, it should be the big-hearted people here in Louisiana! Join the locally organized effort and make a donation at

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