WAJIMA, Japan (Reuters) – On a cold Friday morning in the earthquake-hit Japanese town of Wajima, Aydin Muhammet and his workers served steaming bowls of soup and rice outside a community center for evacuees.
The Turkish national’s team of ten volunteers working for the construction company he owns in central Japan has been at work since Thursday afternoon, providing victims with their first hot meals since a magnitude 7 earthquake, 6 ravaged much of their town on New Year’s Day.
Rushing to disaster areas to help has become Mohammed’s second calling since the earthquake and tsunami across the Japanese archipelago killed around 20,000 people in March 2011.
Muhammet, who has lived in his wife’s homeland for 30 years, said he had been eager to help since he saw news of the devastation on television. He took action as soon as he learned that the roads to Wajima were open.
Working furiously on the phone searching for stores to stock up on supplies, Muhammet and his team – seven other compatriots and two Vietnamese – left their home in Nagoya around 3 a.m. Thursday, putting aside concerns about driving in a snowy region without suitable tires.
“I just had to do something,” he said.
The team of five trucks finally arrived 11 hours later for a 300 km (180 mile) journey that would normally take half that time, and immediately got to work distributing everything from water to layers through ready meals.
“We should have been exhausted, but once we got here we were full of energy,” he said.
Muhammet, 46, said his motivation comes from knowing the despair and loneliness people can feel when they don’t see help coming.
“I’ve been to other disaster areas, so I feel the happiness of the victims when we are here. And that makes me want to continue doing this,” he said, speaking in Japanese.
Wajima, a town of about 30,000 known for its lacquer crafts, saw some of the worst destruction, with dozens of homes and businesses collapsed or burned.
“We are really grateful,” Matsuo Yata, 72, said after delivering a tray of vegetable soup with rice to others in the hall, which is now home to more than 700 other evacuees. “A hot meal is best.”
Muhammet said he was less prepared for the 2011 disaster, but managed to rescue some victims in a tsunami-hit town and also helped with flood relief efforts not far from his home. home in Nagoya.
Muhammet said he had prepared for the worst, as seismologists warn a massive earthquake could hit the Tokai region where he lives within the next 30 years.
His company dug a well that could provide 400 liters (105 gallons) of water per minute and installed a large electric generator. Muhammet also buys a year’s worth of rice grown by a farmer friend, and keeps about a ton in his business as an emergency supply.
Arriving at the scene of despair, Muhammet said he was saddened to see the absence of more citizen volunteers.
“A team of 10 people can’t do much in two days. There have to be more people who can do something,” he said.
“I know it’s New Year, but it’s not the time to rest.”
As a steady stream of hungry evacuees approached to eat their morning meal, an elderly man approached Muhammet, grabbing him in a tight hug in appreciation.
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; writing by Chang-Ran Kim; editing by Stephen Coates)
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