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Japan shelters calm amid tsunami chaos

world Updated: Mar 15, 2011 13:47 IST

Japan's famed emphasis on social harmony is very much in evidence in even the most dire circumstances -- at evacuation centres filled with shell-shocked quake and tsunami survivors.

From the sharing of tasks among volunteers to the neat arrangement of shoes outside the living areas, life in the shelters set up in the wake of Friday's disasters is orderly and peaceful -- unlike the chaos brought by Mother Nature.

"I have never been in a disaster before so I didn't know what to expect. In the movies, you always see people running around screaming but here at the centre, it's really calm," Canadian student Jouvon Evans said.

Evans, a 24-year-old from Toronto who is studying in Tokyo, was travelling by train to hard-hit Sendai city with six friends for a holiday when the massive 9.0-magnitude earthquake and devastating tsunami changed her plans.

"Some of us thought the train was going to turn over," she said.

Since then, she has been sleeping at a community centre in Natori city outside Sendai with her friends, including 21-year-old Alice Caffyn, who hails from London.

Caffyn expressed her amazement at the kindness of strangers and the relative ease with which area residents have set up emergency operations without much obvious help from local government officials.

"Obviously it's very calm. People have been really kind to us," Caffyn said on a hilltop overlooking the area, during a brief tsunami alert on Monday which sent people scurrying for safety.

"There is a group of older women who are sitting next to us. They live in the local area. Every time they come back, they bring us prepared meals."

At another shelter in the Sendai area, a gymnasium at a local junior high school, the same seamless coordination and unfazed attitude prevailed. Local business owners donated supplies as volunteers manned a drinking water pump.

Across the street, people queue calmly with their jerrycans for much-needed petrol, which has been in short supply across wide areas of northeastern Japan in the aftermath of the dual natural disasters.

The episodes stand in stark contrast to the devastation just a short distance away, where entire towns have been virtually wiped out, homes destroyed, cars upended and fields totally submerged.

Caffyn said she, Evans and their friends were planning to walk the 13 kilometres (eight miles) to Sendai proper to try to escape the disaster zone but would not soon forget the hospitality they had experienced.

"Apparently in a lot of other centres, provisions are hard to come by so I think we have been quite lucky," said the Briton, who has been studying at International Christian University in the Japanese capital.

"This feels like a haven to us."