Japan: Rescue Response Continues as Nuclear Crisis Looms

Churches and humanitarian organizations are continuing their response to last week's earthquake and tsunami in Japan even as a potentially deadly nuclear crisis in the country continues to grow.

Several nuclear power plants are now in danger of melting down following Friday's massive 8.9 earthquake, the largest to hit Japan in a century.

About 185,000 residents living nearby the plants have been evacuated so far, while UN official Yukiya Amano noted on Monday that reactor vessels have held and radioactive release has been "limited."

"In situations such as this, it is extremely important that the general public, both in Japan and internationally, is kept fully and accurately informed about the situation," Amano said.

The confirmed death toll from the disaster rose to 1,600 today while many expect the final number to surpass 10,000. Japan's prime minister Naoto Kan has described the situation as the worst in the country since World War II.

Meanwhile, protestant churches and groups in the United States and elsewhere have continued to offer their prayers and financial support for victims of the disaster.

American Baptist Churches USA sent a $20,00 grant to its partner, the Japan Baptist Union, over the weekend, while humanitarian agency Church World Service (CWS) has been working to mobilize support to Japanese NGO's that are on the ground.

"Although Japan is considered among the most advanced countries in terms of disaster risk reduction measures, the damage caused by the unprecedented scale of this disaster is beyond imagination," said Takeshi Komino, the head of emergencies for CWS Asia Pacific.

"Increasing humanitarian needs are being reported from evacuation sites including a lack of ready-to-eat food, water, health and sanitation kits and blankets," he added, noting that all contributions to CWS will be used to fill "critical gaps" in meeting the basic needs of disaster victims.

The Rev. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches (NCC) in the US, noted in a statement on Sunday that the damage and loss of life from the disaster is "almost impossible to comprehend."

"It's natural to feel helpless in situations as overwhelming as this. But prayer is an important first step -- prayer that asks God to be with the families of the dead, the injured, the homeless, and the responders at every level," he said.

Kinnamon further noted that spiritual support and healing ministry will be required "long after the initial impact of the disaster."

"Along with everything else, we pray for the faith and patience to remain committed for as long as it takes," he said.

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