Tsunami Cleanup Memories

Today is the second anniversary of the Great Tohoku Earthquake, and for this occasion I have put many of my memories from tsunami cleanup work into a drawing (click the image to see the high-resolution version).

Pencil Drawing of a Japanese coastal landscape with tsunami damaged towns in various stages of cleanup

This is not a real landscape, I have combined many things (some of which I’ve blogged about before) into a fictional coastline.

The area on the lower left represents what I saw when we went through Ishinomaki on the way to my first day of cleanup work: an outdoor staircase standing without a house, the characteristic bridge, roads having been cleared but lot of debris remaining, a policeman regulating traffic where a traffic light had been, JSDF tankers distributing drinking water, car wrecks and houses with red marks where bodies had been found.

A little further up, in front of the tunnel entrance, is a truck carrying a ship, something I actually posted a picture of before.

Beyond the mountain ridge is a destroyed town, representing the many I have seen along the coast of the Oshika peninsula on the way to Kyuubunhama (see below). Debris removal has progressed further here, there’s a road section that was destroyed by the tsunami and temporarily replaced with gravel. I also included the damaged farm shed from Wakabayashi-ku in Sendai.

The group of buildings near the middle of the picture represents Oginohama Middle School, which served as a big shelter. It was the gathering spot for most of our work in Kyuubunhama, and the food distribution team used its kitchen. While the school is located right next to the coast, I didn’t see serious damage there, probably because the ground is high and additionally protected with a tall sea wall. I tried to draw the baseball team which I saw practicing there, but I’m afraid that’s not very clear. There’s also the emergency mobile phone base station powered by a solar panel. Above the school, the retaining wall next to the road was damaged by the earthquake, so a part of the road is blocked. If you look along the coastline from the school to the lower right, there’s an upside down house (which I really saw at a similar location relative to the school).

On the upper right is what I remember of Kyuubunhama (給分浜), where I did most of my cleanup work. There’s the little fire station, another upside down house (exactly where I saw it), the harbor and a small oyster farm, temporary housing which I saw being built, and the town’s temporary headquarters (the big building on the left side of the town), where our food team distributed what they had made and the cleaning team had their lunch break. This is also where I made the happiest memory from the cleanup work, when we were playing with two children after lunch. I was so glad to see them run around and laugh despite the severe condition of their town!

I still find it hard to understand what happened that day. The shaking, aftershocks, waiting for power and water to return, worrying about radiation. But that was nothing compared to what I saw when I volunteered for cleanup work later. And still what I saw was only a tiny fraction of the the total damage.

I will never forget.

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