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Muntinlupa mayor finds order in Japan chaos

/ 05:37 AM March 15, 2011

MANILA, Philippines—In chaos, there is order—at least for the Japanese.

Amid a powerful temblor and huge waves that wiped out coastal towns, the Japanese knew where to go and what to do, said Muntinlupa Mayor Aldrin San Pedro who was in Tokyo when the earthquake struck on Friday.

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“The amazing thing about the experience was that I did not see people panicking in the streets when authorities sounded the tsunami alarm,” San Pedro told reporters Monday.

“They [people] were very disciplined, very organized during the evacuation, and their rescue personnel responded quickly, with most if not all of them knowing each of their roles,” he said.

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The mayor flew to the Japanese capital on Thursday to receive a donated ladderized fire truck from Fujisawa City, located in Kanagawa prefecture within the Greater Tokyo Area.

He said Fujisawa was around 30 to 40 kilometers from Tokyo, and about 200 to 300 km from the epicenter of the quake.

It did not matter if a local government unit had the best equipment because what was important was people knew what to do, he said.

The evacuations that San Pedro witnessed proved how information was vital in disaster response.

“I think the people in Miyagi [prefecture] were overcome by the speed of the tsunami waves. Had the wave come in later, they might have evacuated properly with what I saw in Fujisawa,” San Pedro said.

When the tsunami warning sirens blared all over the place, “people started to evacuate on their own,” he said.

In contrast, local officials in Manila have to plead with residents to leave their homes when disasters strike, he said.

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Within minutes after the quake, the Japanese officials were able to focus on efforts like distributing relief packs because people were doing their share, the mayor said.

He said packs were being handed out to evacuees, who formed a line.

The Philippine delegation headed to Tokyo to return to their hotel, and it was at about 4 p.m. Friday when his group stumbled upon a massive traffic jam, according to San Pedro.

Since the subways and monorail lines were shut and freeways closed to traffic, the mayor said vehicles had to take secondary roads that led to Tokyo.

On the road, he again saw how orderly drivers were despite the calamity.

“If the road had five lanes, but there was space for two more, the Japanese would maintain the five lines,” he said. “If you want to go to either lane, all you had to do was signal which direction and other drivers will give way.”

Food ran out in convenience stores and some lavatories in gasoline stations were closed, San Pedro said.

The disaster response was also efficient that the Filipino delegation was informed “within minutes” how strong the quake was, initially placed at 8.8-magnitude, San Pedro said.

He said quick and reliable information helped officials assess the situation and address various concerns.

The mayor said the Filipino delegation had access to information because it came from the Fujisawa fire and rescue chief.

The trip to Tokyo from Fujisawa, which took about 45 minutes before the quake, lasted 12 hours. With the Narita airport shut down, San Pedro said he looked for an alternative airport.

Members of the delegation went to Haneda airport and they spent another 12 hours as chance passengers on a lone international flight, which brought them to Hong Kong and eventually back to Manila. The delegation arrived on Sunday.

“This trip is one for the books,” he said. “I think when I get invited to Japan again, this [experience] would probably pop up first in my mind.”

Asked how he would adopt the Japanese disaster response he witnessed, San Pedro said a person’s preparedness must begin at the grassroots with calamity drills as part of the education process.

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TAGS: Disasters (general), Earthquake, Evacuation, Tsunami
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