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Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Treating earthquake survivors
New Zealand authorities on March 3 ended their search for survivors of the Feb. 22 magnitude 6.3 earthquake that devastated Christchurch in the country's South Island. They judged that there was no possibility that any survivors remained under the rubble. The death toll from the quake rose to 166 by March 6 and is expected to reach about 200.
Twenty-seven Japanese are missing, 12 of them students from the Toyama College of Foreign Languages. Sixty-nine Japanese family members went to Christchurch in search of their loved ones. Most of them have returned to Japan. Whether in New Zealand or in Japan, the family members are suffering from anxiety and grief. The 12 students were in Christchurch studying at a language school in the Canterbury TV building, which collapsed during the temblor.
A first-year male student from the Toyama school was having lunch with a friend on the fourth floor when the quake hit. He was rescued some 12 hours later, but his right leg was amputated by rescuers in order to extract him from the rubble. A female student from the same school was also on the fourth floor when the quake hit, and thought that she would die because the space in which she was trapped was flooded. Fortunately, she was rescued.
Many survivors of the quake experienced the horror of being trapped for hours under the rubble. They and their family members may be suffering emotional trauma, so they must be given proper mental health care. People who experience terrible disasters or accidents often are left with psychological scars that do not heal easily. Their trauma can last for more than 10 years.
According to a 2009 survey of 106 people who lost family members in the January 1995 Kobe earthquake, 54 percent still suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and another 54 percent continued to experience depression. This underlines the importance of local governments giving timely advice and support to those who have returned from Christchurch, including having experts give psychological counseling if necessary.