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Exploring disaster resilience: Reflections on my trip to Japan | News, sports, jobs

Exploring disaster resilience: Reflections on my trip to Japan |  News, sports, jobs
Exploring disaster resilience: Reflections on my trip to Japan |  News, sports, jobs


As Chair of the Maui County Council's Disaster, Resilience, International Affairs and Planning Committee and Council Member from West Maui, I have been invited by the Japanese Foreign Minister and the Japan American Council to participate in Kibo (“Hope”) for the Maui Leadership Delegation from May 19-23.

Japan is vulnerable to earthquakes, tsunamis, and typhoons – and has a rich history of resilience and innovation in disaster risk reduction. During my visit, I investigated different aspects of their approach, from economic development and land modification strategies to cutting-edge technology.

The delegation's focus was on Japan's recovery from the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011. The 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck off the east coast of Honshu Island.

It remains the strongest earthquake ever recorded in Japan and the fourth strongest in the world since modern earthquake monitoring began in 1900. The resulting tsunami reached a height of 133 feet at Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, and traveled at 435 miles per hour, submerging coastal areas. It caused widespread destruction.

Residents in some areas had only a few minutes to evacuate, and more than a hundred evacuation sites were washed away. In Fukushima, where the tsunami reached 49 feet, it damaged backup generators at the Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, knocking out power.

Cooling systems failed within days, causing fuel rods in three reactors to overheat and partially melt. Radiation was released during this process.

A buildup of hydrogen gas caused explosions in the external containment buildings of reactors one and three. These explosions compromised the safety of the facility and required the evacuation of approximately 110,000 residents from the communities surrounding the Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. These communities have become unsafe to live in due to high levels of ambient ionizing radiation caused by airborne radioactive contamination from damaged reactors.

Japan's response has embodied cooperation, adaptability and flexibility – emphasizing the importance of preparedness and recovery in the face of major disasters. One of the towns we visited in Fukushima Prefecture was Nami, where we met Mayor Eiko Yoshida.

Mayor Yoshida has been instrumental in guiding Nami towards recovery and resilience and faces the delicate task of balancing economic recovery, infrastructure rebuilding and the emotional needs of residents.

His leadership involves making difficult decisions with the long-term interests of the community in mind. Mayor Yoshida has been transparent about the ongoing recovery process, radiation monitoring, and health-related information.

Its open communication fosters trust and helps residents make informed decisions. It advocates for residents' rights, safety, and well-being by collaborating with experts, local organizations, and government agencies to address concerns about radiation exposure and health risks.

I was able to see residents and government workers coming together to support each other under his leadership, showing resilience in the face of adversity. A small community has returned and is actively participating in recovery efforts to rebuild their lives and maintain a strong sense of community spirit.

I would like to see the same for us here in Maui County and especially my community in Lahaina. As we continue to do our best, we can learn valuable lessons from Japan and other societies that have come the long way to disaster recovery.

I look forward to staying in touch with Mayor Yoshida and others we met and seeking their advice as we continue to recover from the August 2023 wildfires.

* Tamara Baltin is Chair of the Committee on Disasters, Resilience, International Affairs and Planning. She holds the county council seat for the West Maui Residence District. “3 Minutes from the Council” is a column explaining the latest news related to county legislative and community matters. Go to for more information.

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