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Field Report from Wajima City - Medical Assistance Amidst the Crisis

Michioki Endo, M.D., Mitoyo General Hospital

The guy on the very left is Mr.Endo

As a doctor usually working in a hospital in Kagawa Prefecture, I have been in Wajima City on the Noto Peninsula since the morning of January 7th to support the relief efforts following the earthquake that occurred on January 1st.

Today, I would like to report about what happened yesterday, January 10th (the fourth day of my visit).

Yesterday morning, I visited an isolated shelter in Monzen Town, located southwest of Wajima City. Initially accessible by foot just a few days after the earthquake, the area became difficult to reach even for the Self-Defense Forces due to aftershocks, rain, and snow disrupting the roads.

The roads were blocked by huge rocks and landslides, some up to 10 meters. We had intended to bring Starlink, developed by SpaceX, as we heard there was no communication initially. However, the antenna of Starlink is quite large, measuring 594 x 383 x 39.7 mm (height x width x depth) and weighing 2.9 kg, making it difficult to carry in a two-handed manner over rough terrain. Therefore, we carried only the essentials like stethoscopes, sphygmomanometers, and pain relievers, and walked about 1 km in an hour over a seabed strewn with rocks covered in dead seaweed uplifted by crustal movements.

During our journey, we saw smaller rocks and mudslides falling, but by keeping our distance and walking carefully, we safely arrived at the shelter, where we checked on the health and situation of the evacuees.

Yesterday, the Self-Defense Forces had brought in supplies by sea that the evacuees had previously been fetching on foot. The shelter was very stable, thanks to the community's unity, natural spring water, generators, gasoline reserves from being a fishing town, and the attention of the current and former district leaders and other key figures. The number of evacuees had decreased from 58 to 42, and we learned that two more people were living in the mountains behind the shelter.

In terms of medical care, we distributed painkillers to those who couldn't sleep due to back pain and treated someone with visible hematuria on the spot. The situation didn't seem to require immediate medical intervention for the most part, except for minor injuries and a shortage of regular medications. However, we provided the Self-Defense Forces with medication books and prescription details, so the necessary medicines should arrive soon.

The situation is serious, with frequent sounds of landslides and falling rocks. Unlike the 2007 earthquake, where evacuees could leave by boat from the port, this time the uplifted seabed made it impossible. The evacuees are mostly older, with young people being in their 50s and the former district leader around 70 years old.

Communication only reached the shelter yesterday, so there was a lack of information. Evacuees were discussing the need for evacuation and waiting for more information to make decisions. There are still many areas like Monzen that are difficult to access due to earthquakes, rain, and snow, and as DMAT, we are still not fully aware of all the affected areas.

In other news from Wajima City, an infection has been reported in one shelter, affecting about 80% of the people, including staff, with symptoms of vomiting. The Mobile Pharmacy will start operating from January 11th, but with limited medication supply, it will not function adequately. The confusion between health prescriptions and disaster prescriptions is also causing issues due to the limited operational hours of pharmacies.

In closing, I extend my gratitude to the director and training supervisors at Mitoyo General Hospital, Dr. Beniya and the team at Orange Home Care Clinic, and the local doctors in Wajima City for this invaluable field experience.

Further updates will follow.

This article is a translation of Japanese MRIC published on Jan 12, 2024


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