The Forgotten

I recently heard on the radio how the Japanese industry minister resigned over his inappropriate “town of death” comment. That was the first time in months I had heard any slight mention of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. What was regaled as the worst nuclear fallout since Chernobyl seemed to fizz in away in the Western media.

With my interest piqued, I immediately looked up what the current status was in Japan. After all this time I was expecting a sort of recovery by now, with refugees moving to safer ground, restarting their lives, the power plants closed, and updated nuclear plants/alternative sources running the prefectures affected by the tsunami. I was surprised by how powerful the effects of the fallout and the tsunami were, and how far reaching they continue to be, hindering progress in the technological, highly efficient country. Residents won’t be able to move to the no-go zones for years because of radiation dangers.

Still refugee camps. Still uprooted families, torn communities.

Now travel half way across the world to the Empire State.

Quite literally in our own backyard, that overly mentioned Hurricane Irene ripped through. In the city, we had a great laugh when the “hurricane” rolled on through. We were left relatively unscathed with only power outages, downed trees, and the flooding you would see with great thunderstorms. Crisis averted.

Or so it seemed. Upstate, towns were washed away. Foundations ripped out from under houses. With the remnants of tropical storm Lee rushing on the heels of Irene, fellow New Yorkers upstate were not spared from the nasty weather, with Binghamton evacuated, and rivers flooding. No clean water. No power for more than a few weeks.  Disaster zones.

Just like it is still in Japan, even after all this time.

With increasing media coverage and constant bombardment about major stories, often times I purposely desensitize myself to the brunt of the news because there’s just too much information about the same exact, often over sensationalized, news story to soak in. But when I tune out, what am I missing? What, or more appropriately put, who are we forgetting?

Ordinary people who are put in extraordinary situations.

Rice farmer Naoto Matsumura lives in Tomioka, Japan, despite being the last person in town, and living in a radiated land that is teeming with possibility to cause cancer. Feeling responsible to tend to the forgotten, death-stenched land, Matsumura tried to leave the town and live with relatives after the fallout, but his family was afraid he was contaminated and an evacuation center he went to was full. Tending to the left behind pets, animals and few crops, and forced to fish from contaminated rivers to survive in between once a month supply runs, he has “resolved to stay.”

Counties upstate were blind sided by the power of Tropical Storm Lee, and its predecessor, Hurricane Irene. They were ill prepared for torrential rains, devastating damage, and loss of lives, as many stayed at home.  Upstate, residents in Binghamton and beyond were forced to watch the Susquehanna River and others overflow, as rain from tropical storm Lee fed these already swollen bodies from Irene. Part of a major disaster area, many effected individuals evacuated to centers such as Binghamton University. The strength of the rain and flooding created dangerous situation even in presumably safe evacuation centers. One center had to have supplies airdropped because the waters around it made it too dangerous to reach.

Many others remain stuck in disaster zones, whether it be of their own volition or out of necessity. We often flock to the phrase “Never Forget” in remembrance of 9/11. Such a phrase is most fitting and needed to remind us to never forget our fellow man in his direst situation.  Even though the storms left the city unscathed, and even though it has been many months since the tsunami in Japan, we should still give heed to and respond to these disasters, not with detachedness, but with an active and attentive ear.

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