US Volunteers Show American Spirit on Missions to Help Japanese

Tuesday, 15 Mar 2011 05:00 PM

By Dan Weil

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Americans are famous for helping out during times of need, whether it’s a hurricane in New Orleans or an earthquake in Haiti. So it’s no surprise that numerous American volunteers are traveling to Japan to help residents of the Land of the Rising Sun recover from their triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear plant damage.

Armadeus Davidson, a firefighter and paramedic in Gig Harbor, Wash., summed up the spirit of a small group of first responders from the Puget Sound area who will offer medical aid in Japan.

Japanese, earthquake, tsunami, nuclear
U.S. volunteers are trekking to Japan to help disaster victims such as these recover. (Getty Images)
"By our profession, we're helpers," he told local KING 5 News. "We have a hard time sitting around, seeing these events unfold and not being a part of it."

The volunteer nurses and firefighters are part of EMPACT Northwest, which has helped with many disasters, including Hurricane Katrina and the Haiti earthquake.

The group is taking a lot of ready-to-eat meals and laundry to last at least a week. "We don't want to go to Japan and be a burden on the system," Davidson said.

They also are taking along iodine tablets to purify the drinking water. But they are still worried about the spread of nuclear radiation in Japan.

"I'm keeping a close eye on it," said Tamara Alvarez an emergency room nurse. "I'm concerned, but that's not going to stop me from going and helping out where we're needed."

In Portland, the Mercy Corps relief organization is sending volunteers to Japan. Randy Martin, the group’s global emergency systems director is leading the effort. After he lands in Japan, he will meet with the group’s partner, Peace Winds Japan, to form a plan.

“Our initial response was, ‘This is not Congo. This is not Sudan. This is not Myanmar. This is a place that probably doesn't need our help,” Martin told Fox 12 TV in Portland. “But as we talked to Peace Winds Japan, and as we got a feeling for the sorts of challenges they are facing, it became evident that, in fact, we can make a difference.”

In West Palm Beach, Fla., Eagles’ Wings Foundation is sending an eight-man volunteer team to Japan. Eagles’ Wings is an emergency response team founded by Scott Lewis, a West Palm Beach garden-service owner and disaster expert.

“They call us an advanced A-team," he told The Palm Beach Post.

Each member of the team is a specialist and a generalist who carries three days of food, water, and supplies on his back. Two are military officers. The group plans to stay for at least two weeks.

The group also was involved in rescue efforts after Hurricane Katrina, the Haiti earthquake, and the Gulf coast oil spill. One of its main responsibilities will be to organize the delivery of meals to survivors. In Haiti, group members took care of more than 4 million meals in eight days.

As for the American Red Cross, to respect the sovereignty of each country’s Red Cross, it doesn’t send volunteers until the home country group gives permission. So far, the Red Cross has sent a disaster management expert from Washington, D.C., at the request of the Japanese Red Cross to offer support and advice.

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