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The Muramatsu Diaries

On March 11, a record 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck near the Japanese city of Sendai. The quake had an epicenter just off the east coast, which spawned a 32-foot tsunami that surged a quarter of a mile inland, instantly killing thousands of people. The earthquake also damaged nuclear power plants, causing a third emergency with a partial nuclear meltdown and a widespread radiation scare. Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan described the aftermath of the quake as Japan’s worst crisis since World War II.

The Logistics Emergency Team (LET), a partnership between UPS, Agility, TNT and Maersk was deployed to provide logistics support to aid humanitarian relief efforts. I work as a Supply Chain Solutions Ocean Import Supervisor and as the UPS LET coordinator. Here is my journal.

Mar 11, 2011

It was just a usual Friday afternoon. Everybody had been busy finishing up their weeks work. I was catching up after being out for nearly a week because my father had recently passed away after a hard battle with cancer. I was worn out. At 2:46 p.m. I suddenly started to feel dizzy. I couldn’t stand still, so I tried to hold on to the copy machine. That’s when someone shouted “earthquake!”

Tokyo fell into an eerie silence. Trains stopped operating, highways backed up, cars were stuck in heavy traffic, and phone lines became disconnected. I decided to walk home along with thousands of other people. I walked three hours home and heard others walked eight or 10 hours.

On the crowded streets of Tokyo, people were helping each other—sharing maps, attending to the elderly, guiding foreign visitors to safe places, while hotels, schools, and restaurants opened their doors and offered free food and warm blankets.

Mar 15, 2011

One week has passed and we are still having frequent aftershocks; small ones every few minutes with bigger ones two or three times a day. Everyone is “earthquake sick,” like being seasick from being on a rocking boat all day. I keep a glass of water on my desk to know if it’s me or the earth shaking.

The nuclear power plant has not yet calmed down and the level of radiation is higher now. The radio is reporting that the wind may bring radioactive air. The government said small but safe amounts of radioactive iodine turned up in tap water in Tokyo and five other areas. Bottled water is all sold out.

Many companies shut down their Tokyo offices. UPS Japan has decided to keep the office open as usual. Logistics keeps the economy running, so until the Japan government releases an evacuation order, we will stay operational.

Mar 16, 2011

Supermarkets have little fresh food these days. Dairy farmers have no choice but to throw away their fresh milk because they have no packaging available. In the 30 kilometer zone around the nuclear plant, farmers had to leave their cows, horses and chickens abandoned without food.

Mar 17, 2011

The government decided to implement rolling blackouts in some Tokyo areas to avoid a massive blackout. At UPS, even though it was cold, we didn’t use electricity to heat the building and we reduced the use of lights. To secure an exit in the event of another big earthquake, we are keeping the doors open. It’s cold in the office, so everybody is keeping their coats and mufflers on.

Mar 26, 2011

UPS assigned me to be in charge of transport of humanitarian cargo. I will be in contact with the United Nations (UN), nonprofit organizations (NPO), and nongovernmental organizations (NGO) to import various goods, get permission for special customs clearance, and delivery to the affected areas. It had been my dream to work with the UN since I was a student.

I was called into a meeting with Umeno-san [Umeno Masato], the country manager of UPS Japan. He explained my job description, the mission of the LETs, and that I have a chance to be the lead coordinator for our in-kind support. I wasn’t sure if I could do what LET expected, but I would do the best I could. I knew this was a rare opportunity to develop my career while helping my own country.

Mar 29, 2011

I visited the World Food Program (WFP) Japan office. WFP explained their operations and asked that we provide infrastructure deployment and on site logistics expertise to control inventory. WFP offers tents and prefab offices to create temporary distribution hubs. The tents are most frequently used as storage for donated food and beverages and sometimes as workshops or evacuation centers. They are fast and easy to set up and the materials are relatively light so it makes emergency transport easy and cost efficient. WFP airlifted 10 tents and 10 prefab office units to Narita airport already.

WFP also coordinates the customs clearance and transport of donations from abroad.

April 08, 2011

We delivered five tents and four prefab offices to the city of Ishinomaki this week. Ishinomaki is one of the most seriously affected areas. It is said the tsunami waves were more than 10 meters high and reached nearly one kilometer [.62 mile] inland. I’ve heard reports that more than 2,800 houses in the area fully collapsed, 3,000 people died, 2,800 people are missing, and 16,000 people are in the evacuation center.

I spoke with some of our drivers after they delivered tents and prefab offices and they looked refreshed. They seem to have some sense of fulfillment. The drivers say the locals are coming to the trucks smiling with appreciation from everywhere. In the burnt ruins, it’s obvious that the patience and humbleness of survivors has not been lost.

April 15, 2011

Today we delivered 2,250 body bags to Miyagi police for Salvation Army donation. This delivery was a tough one — it gave us a realization of the number of victims.

April 22, 2011

In addition to more tents and prefab offices, we delivered a donation of 70,000 canned foods from the Turkish government to Minami-soma city as well as 11 cartons of children’s clothes donated from the Portuguese embassy.

April 29, 2011

A UPS Brown tail delivered 14 tons of donations from the European Commission. Sleeping bags, beds, and blankets were delivered to the Ibaraki prefecture.

May 06, 2011

This is “Golden week” holidays in Japan. During this holiday week, it seems WFP kindly refrained from calling me too much, so I had better sleep… Even so, we delivered 15,000 packages of noodles donated from Korea, 16,000 packages of cookies to Second Harvest Japan, and 10,000 water buckets and 3,000 plastic sheets for UN High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR).

May 31, 2011

Today we delivered 9,000 blankets for the Salvation Army, 20 tons of water for Second Harvest Japan, and 1,800 solar lamps to UNHCR.

Our in-kind contract for WFP ended today. We are relieved to have delivered everything without difficulties.

Jun 11, 2011

My duty with LET has ended and I finally had a free weekend without my mobile phone chasing me. I had long waited for this time so I could volunteer as a “mud buster” and go to Ishinomaki. I spent two full days cleaning mud and rubble. There was a total 110 of us that cleaned up over one kilometer [.62 miles] of ditch in two days. Very smelly and polluted sludge covered the city for a long time. It is said that it’s going to take more than two years to clean the whole area.

At that moment, it just happened to be the third month after the quake at 2:46 p.m. The sound of bells rang from temples—looking toward the ocean, we observed a moment of silence to commemorate.

The death toll from the quake is near 15,000, with more than 90,000 people still living in temporary shelters. Some reports say that more than 1,000 aftershocks that are 4.0 or greater on the Richter scale have been reported.

In March, The UPS Foundation pledged $1 million in relief with the funds earmarked for in-kind transportation of emergency supplies, trained humanitarian logistics personnel, and financial support. To date, UPS has delivered more than 330,000 kilograms [727,642 pounds] in relief supplies including:

  • 17 tons of canned spaghetti
  • 1,000 jerry cans (fuel containers)
  • 3,594 solar lanterns
  • 22,895 first aid kits

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Category: Caring for Communities, Global Impact, Logistics
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