Five years ago Japan suffered the Tsunami and the Fukishima nuclear melt-down.  Here is a story written by Richard Jones for the Sunday Mirror 100 days after the horrific event.

The consequences of the Tsunami 11th March 2011 left a personal mark on Richard’s family and they decided to leave Japan the following year, feeling anxious, especially for their 11-year-old son.

 

Friday, May 20, 2011
THE VALLEY OF DEATH
.
Minamisanriku took the full force of the huge Tsunami that struck after the biggest earthquake ever recorded in Japan.   The Sunday Mirror this week return to Minamisanriku the town that was “wiped off the face of earth” by the Tsunami.

From Richard Jones, Minamsanriku, Myagi Prefecture,  Northern Japan

“The government just talk but do nothing.” Said Mr Sugawara, sitting in a cardboard box that is the home he shares with his wife. “Almost three months after the earthquake there’s still not enough water. They promised us emergency money but we have received nothing. All I had was my driving licence and the clothes I was wearing. We need more help.” Sugawara escaped with his life when the  March 11th earthquake, the biggest in Japanese history, was followed by a tsunami wave that defied all predictions. The 30-meter high wall of water moved like a juggernaut smashing through the re-in forced concrete Tsunami gates of the fishing port. By the time it crashed through the fourth floor windows of the coastal hospital the wave was a churning wall of debris that caused breath-taking and total annihilation of the town.
The 17,666 population of the fishing town, famous for seaweed, oysters and abalone, was reduced to around 7,000.  Over 4,000 homes were lost and 10,000 souls washed out out to sea.
Sugawara and his wife, wife like thousands of others, live in a
Government shelter on the hillside of overlooking  Minamisanriku. Residents in the shelter are listless and stressed after living there for over ten weeks after losing all their worldly possesions. Everyone in Minamisanriku lost somebody close to them. One young mother in the shelter lost her husband and small children. An elderly lady  who lost her husband rocks back and forth weeping. Mostly they suffer in silence.
At the Kanyo hotel, converted to evacuation shelter, the desk clerk searched the ragged coastline, looking  for the body of his mother, every day for a month. She was never found.
Mitsuyuki Sasaki, 49, was working when a neighbour banged on his door screaming, “Tsumai coming, get out now”.  As he ran the wave crashed into his neighbourhood spitting up dust and spray, the neighbor running by his side perished. His house was ripped from it’s foundations and as he watched it moved along the horizon and was dumped 300 meters away.  “It all happened so quickly,  but it seems so long ago, like another life time.” Says Sasaki. “I lost a very important lady friend, a school teacher. Only one person survived at the school. Ten teachers died.” Sasaki, a calligrapher, (writer of traditional Japanese script) had a large house, with a garden of herbs and wisteria trees. “This is all I have left.” He says clutching a potted wisteria tree. “It is my only memory.”
“We all have to look to the future now. Not the past.” He says.  “I want a new page in life for Minamisanriku. All the victims want to participate in the future planning but there is no Government plan. They just want a mass evacuation and the people to move away.” Unlike other parts of Tsunami-hit Japan, where the clear-up has proceeded with an efficiency only the Japanese can muster, Minamisanriku still looks like a scene from the apocalypse. Twisted and mutilated remnants of  modern Japanese life lie scattered throughout the valley that leads to the ocean. Thousands of mangled cars are piled next to boats and the splinters of houses. Their contents crudely spread amongst the sand and mud; a smiling teenager in a sailors uniform stares from a school year book, a smashed  rice
cooker next to a bikini and  a cassette tape – “day time moments” .
The Shizagawa Old People’s Home, 30 meter above sea-level, where just a few survived by hanging onto the curtain rails, is full of seaweed. After dark the town descends into ghostly darkness filled with the stench of rotting fish and the dust of destruction blowing on the ocean breeze. The dark pacific eerily encasing the the souls of the dead. Many higher communities of Minamisanrikyu that were not Tsunami damaged remain without electricity and there is no running water.
While the government is  providing for the Hinanjo’s, official
evacuation centers, the residents that remain in their homes  are
largely having to fend for themselves. With unemployment running at 90%, due to the destruction of all business, most people are short of money. The young have abandoned the
area looking to find work in the cities. One young girl told how she travelled for two hours too Sanuma city and earned 2000 yen  (16 pounds)  sweeping the streets for four hours.  The money did not cover her transport cost. She too plans to leave permanently. The Mayor of Minamisanriku,  Jin Sato, has slept in his office for 69 of the 70 days since the earthquake struck. Sato, who has the air of a Samurai, was at a meeting to review emergency procedures when the earthquake struck.  His entire staff of 40 set in motion the rehearsed tsunami drill and moved to the safety of the Disaster Prevention Building. It was too late when Sato realized the three storey building was too low. The wave washed over the entire building. “I clung to outside stair rail. Water and debris even entire houses brushed past me.” He told the Sunday Mirror, showing his scared hands. “My mind was empty. The only thing I could do was hold on.”
Thirty of Sato’s colleagues were washed away in the back draft, their bodies never recovered.  Sato along with nine survivors clung to a radio antennae on the roof  as the second and third waves battered the building. They spent a freezing night on the third floor before clambering down fishing nets that covered the building.  Sato finally set foot on land as army helicopters buzzed overhead. “Nothing looked real. It was a scene from hell”, said Sato. The world woke up with images of Minamisanriku adorning front pages under the headline, “The town that disappeared.” With most of his staff dead he has been battling, against the odds, to provide for the 7,000 residents. The  food distribution is mostly limited to the larger evacuation centers, thousands of households are falling through the cracks and receiving nothing. Volunteer groups have stepped in to provide food and water to the needy. OGA for Aid, a volunteer group set-up by  by Colombian and long term Japanese resident Erwin Ortiz, has been distributing food and aid for 9 agencies in Minamisanriku area including Second Harvest and Hope International. The Red Cross who are by far the largest recipient of donations, inexplicably have yet to distribute money or offer any relief in the area. The Sunday Mirror joined OGA for Aid’s convoy of two trucks delivering two tonnes of bottled water, donated by the U.S. military. The residents of Ishihama district flocked to a hilltop home, set up as a distribution centre and soup kitchen for 78 families, within minutes of our arrival, and made off with wheel barrows of bottled water and food parcels.
Until electricity was restored two days ago then, 10 weeks after the tsunami, a red flag was hoisted to signal that the food had arrived. Two kilometers along the coast at Tamarihama there has been no clear-up at all. The Takahashi family have built a temporary home on the hillside overlooking the pacific from wood and metal boarding. A deep freezer has been converted to a bath. The family refused to live in the cramped quarters of an evacuation center and depend entirely upon hand-outs from volunteer groups. OGA for Aid make food and water deliveries in the Minamisanriku area every day and have so far delivered around 350 tonnes of aid that has been donated by individuals, companies and the American military. Government food parcels are allocated only to those that register as victims. The parcels are tiny, often consisting of a pot noodle,a  few bananas, some bread rolls and couple of cans of tuna. “How are a family of four supposed to  divide up and share a pot noodle?” asked Kei Watabe, operations manger for OGA for Aid. “The Governement are just feeding people to keep them alive. They seem
to think that if you don’t die from starvation then you are getting enough to eat. But it’s not living. This is not the third world. Japan is not Africa. And the Government then expect people to have a positive spirit?”  Said Watabe exasperated.
“The Japanese Government is the first country to deploy aid overseas but they are not looking at  their own country. The Government believe that they can soon pull out.  Is supplying two months worth of food enough for Japan’s worst ever natural disaster?”
There are some glimmers of hope in the valley of death, but they are few and far between. A 7-11 opened three weeks ago next to a temporary Esso fuel pump.
One enterprising individual, Mr Katsu Kura, cleared all the debris and from the Se Se Ragi stone park he built 22 years ago. “I want to give
people a place they can find peace.”he said. “I want it to inspire others that we can begin again.”
Two hundred units of pristine temporay housing has already been built next to Shizagawa High School and the Junior High School on the hill opposite. But a thousand short of the target due to limited flat land on the hillsides.
Evacuees are allotted housing using a lottery system. Takeo Sasaki,63, and his wife are Tsukako, 63,  consider themselves fortunate to be have a free place to live. The perfectly finished one bedroom homes come complete with flat screen TV’s, microwave, cooker, air-conditioning and a fitted bathroom.
“The best thing is we have some privacy here,” said Takeo, “But I have lost my large house and I have no idea when we can leave this place. Now we have left the shelter we have to buy our own food, fuel and utilities. I know of several families that refused this housing because they could not afford to feed themselves.  Money is short and no one has received the little emergency money that the Government promised us months ago.”
Sakeo was separated from his wife for a week after the tsunami. A nurse, she was working on the fourth floor of Shizugawa Hospital. “She had a hunch it was going to be bad and moved to the 5th floor of the hospital building next door.” Explained Takeo. “It saved her life.”
No one knows exactly how many patients perished. The two hospital buildings are rammed with debris. Beds, x-rays and medical records strewn in the mud behind the hospital. Few survived in the lower building, that was engulfed by the tsunami.
Over Japanese green tea Sakeo explains how he watched as his own house, overlooking the sea, was washed away along with his neighbours in their cars as they tried to escape.
“We are lucky to both be alive.” Says Takeo but now he knows the hardship is beginning. “My biggest worry is that the people of Minamisanriku will be forgotten and lots of people have no money, no food and no jobs, and we are losing all hope.” “Until I came here I thought there was plenty of aid for everyone. I thought things were much better.” Said a firefighter who had
volunteered to distribute food. “It’s not true” Climbing back out of the valley of death the destruction is soon left behind.  Pristine rice paddies give way to a towns where fast food restaurants and supermarkets compete for business.  The car parks are
full.  The public blissfully unaware of the misery of Minamisanriku.
– Ends
1943 words
donations to OGA for Aid – www.oga-international.com/Friday, May 20, 2011
THE VALLEY OF DEATH
.
Minamisanriku took the full force of the huge Tsunami that struck after the biggest earthquake ever recorded in Japan.   The Sunday Mirror this week return to Minamisanriku the town that was “wiped off the face of earth” .

From Richard Jones, Minamsanriku, Myagi Prefecture,  Northern Japan

“The government just talk but do nothing.” Said Mr Sugawara, sitting in a cardboard box that is the home he shares with his wife. “Almost three months after the earthquake there’s still not enough water. They promised us emergency money but we have received nothing. All I had was my driving licence and the clothes I was wearing. We need more help.” Sugawara escaped with his life when the  March 11th earthquake, the biggest in Japanese history, was followed by a tsunami wave that defied all predictions. The 30-meter high wall of water moved like a juggernaut smashing through the re-in forced concrete Tsunami gates of the fishing port. By the time it crashed through the fourth floor windows of the coastal hospital the wave was a churning wall of debris that caused breath-taking and total annihilation of the town.
The 17,666 population of the fishing town, famous for seaweed, oysters and abalone, was reduced to around 7,000.  Over 4,000 homes were lost and 10,000 souls washed out out to sea.
Sugawara and his wife, wife like thousands of others, live in a
Government shelter on the hillside of overlooking  Minamisanriku. Residents in the shelter are listless and stressed after living there for over ten weeks after losing all their worldly possesions. Everyone in Minamisanriku lost somebody close to them. One young mother in the shelter lost her husband and small children. An elderly lady  who lost her husband rocks back and forth weeping. Mostly they suffer in silence.
At the Kanyo hotel, converted to evacuation shelter, the desk clerk searched the ragged coastline, looking  for the body of his mother, every day for a month. She was never found.
Mitsuyuki Sasaki, 49, was working when a neighbour banged on his door screaming, “Tsumai coming, get out now”.  As he ran the wave crashed into his neighbourhood spitting up dust and spray, the neighbor running by his side perished. His house was ripped from it’s foundations and as he watched it moved along the horizon and was dumped 300 meters away.  “It all happened so quickly,  but it seems so long ago, like another life time.” Says Sasaki. “I lost a very important lady friend, a school teacher. Only one person survived at the school. Ten teachers died.” Sasaki, a calligrapher, (writer of traditional Japanese script) had a large house, with a garden of herbs and wisteria trees. “This is all I have left.” He says clutching a potted wisteria tree. “It is my only memory.”
“We all have to look to the future now. Not the past.” He says.  “I want a new page in life for Minamisanriku. All the victims want to participate in the future planning but there is no Government plan. They just want a mass evacuation and the people to move away.” Unlike other parts of Tsunami-hit Japan, where the clear-up has proceeded with an efficiency only the Japanese can muster, Minamisanriku still looks like a scene from the apocalypse. Twisted and mutilated remnants of  modern Japanese life lie scattered throughout the valley that leads to the ocean. Thousands of mangled cars are piled next to boats and the splinters of houses. Their contents crudely spread amongst the sand and mud; a smiling teenager in a sailors uniform stares from a school year book, a smashed  rice
cooker next to a bikini and  a cassette tape – “day time moments” .
The Shizagawa Old People’s Home, 30 meter above sea-level, where just a few survived by hanging onto the curtain rails, is full of seaweed. After dark the town descends into ghostly darkness filled with the stench of rotting fish and the dust of destruction blowing on the ocean breeze. The dark pacific eerily encasing the the souls of the dead. Many higher communities of Minamisanrikyu that were not Tsunami damaged remain without electricity and there is no running water.
While the government is  providing for the Hinanjo’s, official
evacuation centers, the residents that remain in their homes  are
largely having to fend for themselves. With unemployment running at 90%, due to the destruction of all business, most people are short of money. The young have abandoned the
area looking to find work in the cities. One young girl told how she travelled for two hours too Sanuma city and earned 2000 yen  (16 pounds)  sweeping the streets for four hours.  The money did not cover her transport cost. She too plans to leave permanently. The Mayor of Minamisanriku,  Jin Sato, has slept in his office for 69 of the 70 days since the earthquake struck. Sato, who has the air of a Samurai, was at a meeting to review emergency procedures when the earthquake struck.  His entire staff of 40 set in motion the rehearsed tsunami drill and moved to the safety of the Disaster Prevention Building. It was too late when Sato realized the three storey building was too low. The wave washed over the entire building. “I clung to outside stair rail. Water and debris even entire houses brushed past me.” He told the Sunday Mirror, showing his scared hands. “My mind was empty. The only thing I could do was hold on.”
Thirty of Sato’s colleagues were washed away in the back draft, their bodies never recovered.  Sato along with nine survivors clung to a radio antennae on the roof  as the second and third waves battered the building. They spent a freezing night on the third floor before clambering down fishing nets that covered the building.  Sato finally set foot on land as army helicopters buzzed overhead. “Nothing looked real. It was a scene from hell”, said Sato. The world woke up with images of Minamisanriku adorning front pages under the headline, “The town that disappeared.” With most of his staff dead he has been battling, against the odds, to provide for the 7,000 residents. The  food distribution is mostly limited to the larger evacuation centers, thousands of households are falling through the cracks and receiving nothing. Volunteer groups have stepped in to provide food and water to the needy. OGA for Aid, a volunteer group set-up by  by Colombian and long term Japanese resident Erwin Ortiz, has been distributing food and aid for 9 agencies in Minamisanriku area including Second Harvest and Hope International. The Red Cross who are by far the largest recipient of donations, inexplicably have yet to distribute money or offer any relief in the area. The Sunday Mirror joined OGA for Aid’s convoy of two trucks delivering two tonnes of bottled water, donated by the U.S. military. The residents of Ishihama district flocked to a hilltop home, set up as a distribution centre and soup kitchen for 78 families, within minutes of our arrival, and made off with wheel barrows of bottled water and food parcels.
Until electricity was restored two days ago then, 10 weeks after the tsunami, a red flag was hoisted to signal that the food had arrived. Two kilometers along the coast at Tamarihama there has been no clear-up at all. The Takahashi family have built a temporary home on the hillside overlooking the pacific from wood and metal boarding. A deep freezer has been converted to a bath. The family refused to live in the cramped quarters of an evacuation center and depend entirely upon hand-outs from volunteer groups. OGA for Aid make food and water deliveries in the Minamisanriku area every day and have so far delivered around 350 tonnes of aid that has been donated by individuals, companies and the American military. Government food parcels are allocated only to those that register as victims. The parcels are tiny, often consisting of a pot noodle,a  few bananas, some bread rolls and couple of cans of tuna. “How are a family of four supposed to  divide up and share a pot noodle?” asked Kei Watabe, operations manger for OGA for Aid. “The Governement are just feeding people to keep them alive. They seem
to think that if you don’t die from starvation then you are getting
enough to eat. But it’s not living. This is not the third world. Japan
is not Africa. And the Government then expect people to have a
positive spirit?”  Said Watabe exasperated.
“The Japanese Government is the first country to deploy aid overseas
but they are not looking at  their own country. The Government believe
that they can soon pull out.  Is supplying two months worth of food
enough for Japan’s worst ever natural disaster?”
There are some glimmers of hope in the valley of death, but they are
few and far between.
A 7-11 opened three weeks ago next to a temporary Esso fuel pump.
One enterprising individual, Mr Katsu Kura, cleared all the debris and
from the Se Se Ragi stone park he built 22 years ago. “I want to give
people a place they can find peace.”he said. “I want it to inspire
others that we can begin again.”
Two hundred units of pristine temporay housing has already been built
next to Shizagawa High School and the Junior High School on the hill
opposite. But a thousand short of the target due to limited flat land
on the hillsides.
Evacuees are allotted housing using a lottery system.
Takeo Sasaki,63, and his wife are Tsukako, 63,  consider themselves
fortunate to be have a free place to live. The perfectly finished one
bedroom homes come complete with flat screen TV’s, microwave, cooker,
air-conditioning and a fitted bathroom.
“The best thing is we have some privacy here,” said Takeo, “But I have
lost my large house and I have no idea when we can leave this place.
Now we have left the shelter we have to buy our own food, fuel and
utilities. I know of several families that refused this housing
because they could not afford to feed themselves.  Money is short and
no one has received the little emergency money that the Government
promised us months ago.”
Sakeo was separated from his wife for a week after the tsunami. A
nurse, she was working on the fourth floor of Shizugawa Hospital.
“She had a hunch it was going to be bad and moved to the 5th floor of
the hospital building next door.” Explained Takeo. “It saved her
life.”
No one knows exactly how many patients perished. The two hospital
buildings are rammed with debris. Beds, x-rays and medical records
strewn in the mud behind the hospital. Few survived in the lower
building, that was engulfed by the tsunami.
Over Japanese green tea Sakeo explains how he watched as his own
house, overlooking the sea, was washed away along with his neighbours
in their cars as they tried to escape.
“We are lucky to both be alive.” Says Takeo but now he knows the
hardship is beginning. “My biggest worry is that the people of
Minamisanriku will be forgotten and lots of people have no money, no
food and no jobs, and we are losing all hope.”
“Until I came here I thought there was plenty of aid for everyone. I
thought things were much better.” Said a firefighter who had
volunteered to distribute food. “It’s not true”
Climbing back out of the valley of death the destruction is soon left
behind.  Pristine rice paddies give way to a towns where fast food
restaurants and supermarkets compete for business.  The car parks are
full.  The public blissfully unaware of the misery of Minamisanriku.
– Ends  ©Richard Jones-2011 / Sinopix
1943 words

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