Arrived in sendai via fukushima, took the toll roads in with 3 amazing volunteers headed from tokyo to sendai volunteer their weekend. the four of us arrived after many hours of driving through a couple toll expressways to tohoku, japan.
the air was really thick and foggy, smells of decay and ocean brine permeated the car as we approached the ‘zone of inundation’. many cars were strewn about the vast expanses of rice paddies with an occasional large ship tossed into the horizon. thick viscous mud enveloped dead pigs, ripped off rooftops and twisted guard rails. these scenes appeared like paintings from a twisted surreal Salvador Dali polyptychs, enveloping the viewer in full 360-degree destruction. where ever you looked, cars were smashed into homes, two large fishing vessels attached and sandwiched between homes, it was almost indescribable. there was also silence with the occasional murmuring of a vehicle cruising thru containing survivors headed back to sift through their home or realize all that was left of their home was the foundation the home once rested upon.
apart from all this doom and gloom was the fact part of this journey was also in the spirit of volunteerism. 3 fellows, 2 dudes from the United Kingdom, 1 fellow from kanagawa and a hawaii resident (me), sharing and assisting/volunteering.
the four of us arrived on friday, april 15th and headed to the volunteer center near the watari city onsen to register, pick up special nail proof shoe inserts, gloves and mask. we met up with Ken Lee and Skorj and joined a six other guys from kanagawa, head volunteer coordinator/worker. this group was made up of bankers, IT meisters, photojournalist, commercial airline pilot, retired homicide detective and more. what a group !
above. and damaged helicopters lay near the sendai airport after the march 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
the first day we assisted basically digging and moving many square yards of sand and debris that inundated a survivors residence. there was a system in place, yellow flag fronting the house meant it was structurally sound, a red flag meant it was inhabitable. shoveling and wheelbarrowing.
the second day found us really close to the water. so close, that if another quake occurred, there might be tsunami issues. (please don’t tell my wife…) we had a special radio that kept us in direct contact to the control center. actually we were about 10 meters away from water… after working many hours, we all forgot about the ocean being right there. upon arriving there was a dank aroma of rotting ocean debris. all the tatami needed to be thrown out, all being waterlogged so each mat weighed a ton. it took about 2 strong volunteers to shuttle each swollen tatami about 30 meters from inside the house to outside on the road. after this, there was a refrigerator that was rank. as soon i popped the door open, i saw all the volunteers scatter like roaches. the smell was quite strong, in order to move the fridge, each drawer needed to be individually hauled off on a wheel barrow. fun ! strange viscous liquids oozed. long story short, it was quite an experience. we emptied the whole first floor of this very large building and a rear home in about 5-6 hours with about ten volunteers. nearly all of the survivors belongings were being thrown out due to extensive water damage. the tsunami flooded this house, the high water mark was about 1.5 meters. this particular home was left virtually undamaged structurally, but was inundated with a surge of ocean water. fronting the home was a dike, about 7-8 meters in height. according to survivors, the initial march 11, 2011 tsunami came in from the west with direct impact to the port, this home was along a very wide river. the tsunami then surged into the adjacent river causing the river to rise and overflow the dike. what then ensued, was overflow into the homes close to the dike. although, the dike protected the homes adjacent, the overflow brought floating cars and other debris.
more pics soon
if you’re interested in volunteering. pls view ken’s blog. volunteeringintohoku.blogspot.com