Yesterday I went for volunteering in the tsunami-hit area again, this time in Sendai’s Wakabayashi ward (若林区). We met at 9:30 in the morning and went to a rice farm, where most of the buildings were still standing – more or less. This traditional style warehouse had been moved from its foundations. See the square stones?
The barn and storage shed we were cleaning had not been moved, although there was visible damage to the walls. On a harvesting machine inside I could see dirt marks which I believe show the highest water level at about breast hight. The first step was to remove dirt and items that belonged to the farm but had been ruined by the tsunami. Everything was sorted into three heaps: Wood (and other burnable materials), plastic and metal. Areas where big debris had been removed were then cleaned from dirt using shovels and brooms. As far as I could see, the ladies were cleaning the garden.
Lunch was a bit simpler then last time, we spread a sheet to protect against dirt and sat down. Would any of my European readers get the idea to make an egg sandwich using raisin bread? Not that it was bad – in fact it was quite good – but I certainly wouldn’t have thought of it.
During the afternoon another team arrived. I’m not sure if they were volunteers, a building company or sent by the government, but in any case they had some machinery: a truck to carry debris away and a small excavator with a grab arm. It didn’t take them long to remove the sorted heaps we made before, and it is amazing to see how Japanese construction workers use their machines. When I watch construction work in Germany, I usually feel like they’re working on a “best effort” basis: As long as the tool hits approximately where it should, it’s good enough. In Japan it looks almost tender, heavy tool arms hitting their mark within a few centimeters. After removing the waste, the operator used a large piece of wood to flatten the area.
I couldn’t even see the sea from where we were working, but aside from the damage mentioned before there was a row trees in the distance, which had been heavily thinned out at some places. In the rice fields around the farm many areas were still blocked off with white tape, which means that the search for victims is not yet complete there. It may seem contradictory, but the more I see the less I feel like I understand the extent of the disaster. This may sound desperate, but it isn’t: Yes, I do see the damage, but I also see how everyone is giving their best for cleanup, recovery and reconstruction, and I’m glad that I can help a little.
Oh, and we got mandarin oranges as a goodbye present. 🙂