Thursday, March 17, 2011

Gas Stoves and Feminine Napkins

Today’s NHK morning show, Asaichi, teaches women living in the resource-scarce evacuation centers how to make feminine napkins. In response to multiple write-in letters from those in evacuation areas asking for tampons and diapers to be sent, the television program provided detailed instructions on how to make feminine napkins by cutting off the sleeves of a shirt, stuffing cotton into the sleeves and using tape to make it stick. These instructions were followed by further instructions on how to make diapers from cotton towels. It didn’t take long for Japanese Twitterers watching the show to respond with the rather obvious point. If the evacuees had towels, they wouldn’t be begging those outside the crisis area to send tampons and diapers.

One thing that all will agree on: those in the evacuation centers need heat. They need gas, kerosene, and oil to heat the evacuation centers in schools and public buildings. For those who have not lived in the northern regions of Japan, the reliance on kerosene for heating may be unclear. Schools and a large number of homes in the north are heated by kerosene and gas. Homes may use portable units or have gas outlets in various rooms to which portable units connect. Kerosene and gas units have safety features that automatically cut off the fuel supply when the heater receives a shake from an accident or earthquake. They also shut off after two or three hours at night to prevent carbon monoxide fumes from building. The fires following the quake and tsunami could easily have been started from domestic kerosene tanks and loosed connections catching fire.

The most frequent complaint of those in the evacuation centers is of cold. Families sleep together to stay warm. Evacuation centers in the most devastated areas talked today of having only enough kerosene left for the night. Kerosene and oil are in such short supply that even the now famously “non-looting Japanese” have been found to have looters in the ranks. Kerosene has been stolen from elementary schools.

Trucks have driven oil and kerosene up from the south, but the lack of gasoline to keep delivery trucks running has meant lengthy lines that take seven hours to get through or no gasoline at all for these delivery trucks.

Without heat, those with influenza have increased. 21 people have died in evacuation centers in Fukushima from the lack of heat, food, medicine, and medical help; 14 of them in Ishinomaki city. So, while those evacuees in Ishinomaki’s Minato elementary school speak resignedly of having such a dearth of water that they no longer urinate, or that food that is delivered for twenty people that must be divided among twice that amount, or that medicines have been completely wiped from the shelves, or that they must pass buckets of water from the school’s swimming pool up multiple flights of stairs to dump into toilets in order to flush them—despite these complaintslikely the biggest concern is whether they will be warm tonight.

Those in Tokyo are forced to deal with rolling blackouts and train schedules through which TEPCO tries to save energy, but hardly 200 miles north of them, great wave victims wonder how long their heat will last. They are down to only days if not hours now.

Are we all in this together?