With the death toll rising in Japan, the eyes of the world are watching with bated breath, and vigilantly monitoring the nuclear reactors. If something goes haywire, no one is immune… the radiation can impact across the Pacific Ocean and wherever else the wind blows.

The losses of life, loving homes, normalcy are surreal. And reminds me of my time in Sichuan a few weeks after the big one struck in 2008. That was a really hard humanitarian “rescue” operation in Sichuan. We were prepped on how to deal emotionally, but one can never be totally prepared and insulated from the sheer shock from witnessing firsthand the colossal damage and enormous human tragedy that results from a strong quake.

More than 70,000 people lost their lives in a matter of minutes. Highways bent in half like broken chopsticks. Houses were shredded like paper. Dazed people tried to move on. Some heroes who had sacrificed to save lives emerged, but they seemed defeated by the pall of sadness. Everyone tried to make sense of it all. Death didn’t play fair. It struck unexpectedly and randomly, and many lost their better halves, their parents, their children, the most important people in the world to them.

Let’s keep Japan close to our hearts and close in our prayers.

One Hollywood-film like rescue out at sea puts a face on this human tragedy. From CNN, one story of heart wrenching loss:

A dramatic rescue also took place off Japan’s coast Sunday, when a Japanese destroyer rescued a 60-year-old man at sea, some 15 kilometers (9 miles) off Fukushima prefecture. The man, identified as Hiromitsu Shinkawa of Minami Soma, was swept away with his house, Kyodo said. He was spotted floating in the sea, waving a self-made red flag while standing on a piece of his house’s roof.

Shinkawa was conscious and in good condition, Kyodo said, citing Defense Ministry officials. He was quoted as telling rescuers he had left his home because of the quake, but returned home to grab some belongings with his wife when the tsunami hit. “I was saved by holding onto the roof,” he said, “but my wife was swept away.”

When a member of Japan’s Maritime Self Defense Force handed him something to drink on the rescue boat, Shinkawa drank it and burst into tears, Kyodo reported. “No helicopters or boats that came nearby noticed me,” he said. “… I thought today was the last day of my life.”

My recommendations on where to donate to help the rescue and rebuilding process is the Red Cross. Another organization is gearing up to help mobilize resources and once they’re ready, I’ll post info on how to give.

Survivors wait it out at a temporary shelter in Japan