I have never been in a disaster. The nearest I came to experiencing one was when, as a student in a Catholic seminary, I would go off distributing relief goods to victims of flooding in remote mountain areas in the Philippines. The victims were generally very poor people who lived in bamboo huts that typhoons and floods easily demolished and swept away.
The nearest I came to being involved in a full-scale disaster was when a flashflood occurred in my hometown of Ormoc City, in the island of Leyte, the Philippines in 1991. I was nowhere near my hometown when that happened. I was 7000 miles away in Los Angeles, California. There was mention in the TV of a storm that struck the central Philippines with some casualties, but I thought nothing of it because typhoons were a common occurrence in my country. It was not until my sister called from Sydney and said that she couldn’t get a call through to our place and that many people were rumored to have died. Apparently, after an intense rainstorm, two rivers that bisected our town had risen above their banks and inundated the city. Our family house was just several meters away from the river bank. Fortunately it was on elevated ground, which helped to keep the floodwater at bay and confine it to the first floor. Nobody in our household was injured. Many others were not so lucky. The flooding had occurred in the middle of the day, when students were coming out of schools. An estimated 3000 to 7000 died in that flooding, most of them children. A classmate and a local millionaire disappeared in the waters.There were mass burials because under the tropical sun, the corpses rotted quickly. My nephew and niece developed breathing problems from the ensuing dust and whatever else came with it. Even though I wasn't in the city and saw no actual scenes of destruction, I had nightmares about the disaster.
On being confronted by the apocalyptic scenes on Japanese TV, rendered more horrifying because such scenes would not normally be captured in such detail by cameras, I came to an understanding of how that flood in my hometown could have transpired. The current destruction in Japan beggars the imagination. Recovery and reconstruction would probably be on a gargantuan scale.
Japan is a rich and technologically well-developed country. In fact, after the floods in my hometown, the Japanese aid agency called Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) funded the construction of solid dikes to contain the two rivers that contributed to the flooding. Since that time, no flooding has occurred in my town.
I don’t know what the Filipino people, a recipient of Japanese aid, can do to help in the aftermath of the tsunami in Japan.
What they can do, probably, is pray that the Japanese people will pull through this calamity. With all their resources and tenacity, I’m sure they will.
This is also an occasion for mankind to reflect on how puny and helpless we are, rich or poor, 3rd world or 1st world, against the might of nature.
We may be something in our minds and beliefs, but in the grand scheme of a blind universe, we are nothing.