JAPANESE TSUNAMI SURVIVORS IMMEDIATELY AFTER MARCH 11, 2011 DISASTER

LIFE FOR SURVIVORS AFTER GREAT EAST JAPAN EARTHQUAKE AND TSUNAMI OF MARCH 11, 2011

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About 460,000 people were made homeless by the earthquake and tsunami. Initially, most them stayed at 1,900 government-designated shelters and evacuation centers---many of them in school gymnasiums. There were a few reports of evacuation centers turning people away and people sleeping in cars because shelters were too cold but for the most part the evacuation centers tried to make room for all comers and a did good job providing food and water under very difficult circumstances. Some survivors were put up in hotels with the government footing the bill. Early on many survivors spent their time seeking news of friends and relatives. Those who could not find the names they sought on name lists wrote out messages on pieces of paper, and taped them to the entrances of shelters . Hundreds of pieces were hung there.

Martin Fackler and Mark McDonald wrote in the New York Times, “Bitterly cold and windy weather that pushed into northern Japan compounded the misery as the region struggled with shortages of food, fuel and water... The region continues to face widespread power and water shortages. When relief supplies do come, residents clamor for help. At Natori City Hall, survivors quickly lined up at a truck handing out large containers of water. Lines of nearly a mile formed in front of stations providing gasoline. At City Hall, officials in this town of 70,000 residents have posted a list of the 8,340 people who arrived safely at 41 makeshift shelters. Dozens of people crammed into the building's small lobby to pore over the lists.” [Source: Martin Fackler and Mark McDonald, New York Times, March 15, 2011]

“Mikako Watanabe, 26, and Yumiko Watanabe, 24, were looking for their mother. They were at work when the tsunami struck, but their mother was napping at home in the Yuriage neighborhood, as she always did after her night shift as a nurse. ''I hope she woke up with the earthquake and got to safety in time,'' the older sister said. ''We have no way to contact her.''...Three days after the tsunami, they still had no word of her. Their message said, ''Yurika Watanabe, we're looking for you. Contact us if you see this.''

“But communications are badly broken... Some meetings are by chance. In the crowds, there were squeals of joy at reunions -- and crying for relatives not found. One woman wailed over and over, 'Her name is not on the list! Her name is not on the list!' She said she was looking for her sister-in-law, who lived in Yuriage. She said that if she is not at an evacuation center, she must be dead.

In the Miyagino ward of Sendai city---the hardest-hit population center---officials set up 31 evacuation sites. They filled up with 23,000 people. This was near the area where, one day earlier, several hundred bodies had been found on the beach. “Supplies are coming in bit by bit, but we still don’t have enough,” said Hideya Yusa in the Miyago ward officein Sendai . “Initially we needed more blankets, which we still don’t have enough of. So far we have distributed dried crackers, water and rice, but it wasn’t enough to go around for everyone.” [Source: Chico Harlan, Washington Post, March 12, 2011]

There were 468,653 people staying in shelters on March 14, three days after the earthquake and tsunami. More than 130,000 people were still staying at evacuation centers as of late May 2011; 90,000 in mid-June. The numbers are hard to access as many evacuees have moved in with relatives and friends and some town records were destroyed.

Websites, Links and Resources

Links to Articles in this Website About the 2011 Tsunami and Earthquake: 2011 EAST JAPAN EARTHQUAKE AND TSUNAMI: DEATH TOLL, GEOLOGY AND THEORIES Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; ACCOUNTS OF THE 2011 EARTHQUAKE Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; DAMAGE FROM 2011 EARTHQUAKE AND TSUNAMI Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; EYEWITNESS ACCOUNTS AND SURVIVOR STORIES Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; TSUNAMI WIPES OUT MINAMISANRIKU Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; SURVIVORS OF THE 2011 TSUNAMI Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; DEAD AND MISSING FROM THE 2011 TSUNAMI Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; RESCUE, RELIEF, REBUILDING AFTER TSUNAMI Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; LIFE FOR SURVIVORS AFTER THE TSUNAMI Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; CRISIS AT THE FUKUSHIMA NUCLEAR POWER PLANT Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; TEPCO, AND THE SAFETY OF FUKUSHIMA NUCLEAR PLANT Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; MELTDOWNS AT THE FUKUSHIMA Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; EARLY HOURS AT FUKUSHIMA AFTER THE TSUNAMI STRUCK Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; WHO’s TO BLAME FOR THE FUKUSHIMA Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; DAMAGE CONTROL AT FUKUSHIMA NUCLEAR POWER PLANT Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; RADIATION RELEASED FROM FUKUSHIMA Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; IMPACT OF EARTHQUAKE AND TSUNAMI OF MARCH 11, 2011 ON TOKYO, TRANSPORTATION AND ELECTRICITY Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; IMPACT OF 2011 EAST JAPAN EARTHQUAKE AND TSUNAMI ON THE ECONOMY Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; NUCLEAR ENERGY IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ;

Links to Articles in this Website About Earthquakes, Volcanoes and Tsunamis: VOLCANOS AND JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; MAJOR VOLCANOS AND ERUPTIONS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; EARTHQUAKES AND JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; EARTHQUAKES AND LIFE IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; LARGE EARTHQUAKES IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; KOBE EARTHQUAKE OF 1995 Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; LARGE EARTHQUAKES IN JAPAN IN THE 2000s Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; TSUNAMIS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan

Good Websites and Sources on Tsunamis: Wikipedia article on Tsunamis Wikipedia ; Surviving a Tsunami, Lessons from Chile, Hawaii and Japan pubs.usgs.gov ; Tsunami Warning System in Japan jma.go.jp/jma ; Tsunami Warnings from Japan Meteorological Agency jma.go.jp/en/tsunami ; Book: Tsunami: The Underrated Hazard by Edward Bryant. Tsunamis That Struck Japan Major Tsunamis in Japan in the 20th Century tsunami.civil.tohoku.ac.jp ; Major Earthquakes and Tsunamis in Japan in the 20th Century drgeorgepc.com ; 1933 Earthquake and Tsunami pdf file cidbimena.desastres.hn ; 1983 Tsunami drgeorgepc.com ; Report on the 1993 Tsunami nctr.pmel.noaa.gov ; Small Tsunami in 2010 reuters.com ;

Good Websites and Sources on Earthquakes: U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) National Earthquake Information Center earthquake.usgs.gov ; Wikipedia article on Earthquakes Wikipedia ; Earthquake severity pubs.usgs.gov ; USGS Earthquake Frequently Asked Questions earthquake.usgs.gov/learn/faq ; Collection of Images from Historic Earthquakes Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Center, Jan Kozak Collection ; World Earthquake Map iris.edu/seismon ; Most Recent Earthquakes earthquake.usgs.gov ; Interactive Earthquake Guide guardian.co.uk ; USGS Earthquakes for Kids earthquake.usgs.gov/learn/kids ; Earthquake Preparedness and Safety Surviving an Earthquake edu4hazards.org ; Earthquake Pamphlet pubs.usgs.gov ; Earthquake Preparedness Guide earthquakepreparednessguide.com ; Earthquake Safety Site earthquakecountry.info ;

Earthquake Information for Japan Earthquake Information from Japan Meteorological Agency jma.go.jp/en/quake ; F-Net Broadband Seismography Network fnet.bosai.go.jp ; USGS Japan Earthquake Information earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/world ; Tectonics and Volcanos of Japan volcano.oregonstate.edu ; MCEER Earthquake Engineering on Major Earthquakes in Japan in the 20th Century mceer.buffalo.edu ; Major Earthquakes in Japan in the 20th Century drgeorgepc.com ; Sesimic Hazard Map earthquake.usgs.gov ; Earthquake Density Map earthquake.usgs.gov ; Seismicity Map earthquake.usgs.gov ; Blogs About Japanese Earthquakes blogged.com/topics/japan-earthquake ; Geological Maps aist.go.jp/GSJ ; Earthquake Engineering and Disaster Prevention: Disaster Prevention Research Institute, University of Kyoto dpri.kyoto-u.ac.jp/web ; Japan Association of Earthquake Engineering jaee.gr.jp/english ; Earthquake Preparedness in Japan Earthquake Preparedness Survey whatjapanthinks.com ;U.S. Embassy Disaster Preparedness Checklist tokyo.usembassy.gov ; U.K. Embassy on Earthquake Preparedness v ; Report on Fastening Furniture pdf file iiasa.ac.at/Research/RAV ;Earthquake Preparedness Guide earthquakepreparednessguide.com ;

Earthquake Research in Japan: Headquarters of Earthquake Research Promotion jishin.go.jp ; Active Fault Research Center unit.aist.go.jp ; Institute of Geology and Geoinformation unit.aist.go.jp ; Tokai Earthquake Prediction from Japan Meteorological Agency jma.go.jp/en/quake_tokai ;Research Center for Earthquake Prediction, University of Kyoto rcep.dpri.kyoto-u.ac.jp ; Earthquake Prediction Research Center, Tokyo University eri.u-tokyo.ac.jp/ ; Earthquake and Science Museums Shinagawa City Disaster Prevention site city.shinagawa.tokyo.jp ; Earthquake Museum (Kita Ward, near the Nishigahara Station on the Naboku subway line), Tokyo Essentials tokyoessentials.com ; Honjo Life Safety Learning Center (Sumida Ward) simulates an earthquake and fire in a 3-D theater. There is also a room that simulates a storm with wind sped of 30 meters per second. Tokyo City PDF file bousai.metro.tokyo.jp

Recent Earthquakes in Japan : USGS Last Earthquake in Japan neic.usgs.gov/neis/last_event/world_japan ; Recent Earthquakes eri.u-tokyo.ac.jp ; Info for the Previous Week jma.go.jp/en/quake ; Major Earthquakes in Japan Wikipedia List of Earthquakes in Japan Wikipedia ; USGS Historic Earthquakes earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/world/historical ;Major Earthquakes in Japan in the 20th Century drgeorgepc.com ; 1923 Tokyo Earthquake: 1923 Tokyo Earthquake Images eas.slu.edu/Earthquake_Center ; Great Kanto earthquake of 1923 dl.lib.brown.edu/kanto ; 1923 Tokyo Earthquake Photo Gallery japan-guide.com ; Earthquake Pictures: Earthquake Image Archive geot.civil.metro-u.ac.jp ; BBC Pictures of 2007 Niigata Earthquake BBC Pictures of 2007 Niigata Earthquake ; Kobe Earthquake Site seismo.unr.edu

Immediately After the Tsunami and Earthquake

Sendai resident Braven Smillie wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “On the day of the quake, after our initial relief at having survived, we had to improvise sources of heat, light, sustenance. Almost as bad as the lack of electricity, gas and water was the lack of knowing. This gnawing uncertainty grew over the next few days, especially after cellphone service was restored and we began to learn of the overheating nuclear reactors in Fukushima, about 50 miles south. News reports showed a bull's-eye of concentric circles on a map of our region, with red in the middle, where the reactors were burning, and shading to orange and yellow farther out. We were outside the yellow part, but not far enough. In the end, it was that expanding bull's-eye map that clinched our decision to leave.” [Ibid]

“Kilometer-long lines of desperate motorists had blocked roads near gas stations, nearly preventing us from driving out...Lines of people snaked for hundreds of yards from the entrances of blacked-out grocery stores....Harried store clerks fumbling with megaphones as they explained rationing rules.”

Hours of searching yielded four seats on a flight out of the local airport in Akita, but to get there meant a drive of more than six hours on mountain roads. We had about 23 liters left in the tank. But was it enough? In deep snow on uncertain roads, there would be no margin for error. We set out, driving first through town and then on rural roads that gradually climbed into low mountains. Around dark, I watched the odometer and fuel gauge pass the point at which we could turn back. More miles and hours passed, eating up precious fuel on the climb. I became so focused on mileage that I even slowed the windshield wipers down, hoping it would save fuel during the trip. We made it. But after a period of relief, I began to feel a little guilty. Had I left others behind to manage when we should be pitching in too? After 17 days away, it was time to go home.”

“In the north, a wet snow fell on nearly half a million newly homeless people,” Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker, “At convenience stores, the first things to disappear were the instant noodles and the toilet paper, then rice balls, bread, and batteries. The liquor and cigarettes remained. The empty shelves owed far less to disrupted supplies than to the quiet hoarding that people hated themselves for doing. (To hoard is potentially to deprive your neighbor.) In the northeast, the government began restoring electricity, but lagged so much in delivering basic supplies---blankets, heating oil, gasoline, medicine---that some survivors were subsisting on nothing but bananas and complaining about something scarcely imagined in today’s Japan: hunger.” [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, March 28, 2011]

Reporting from the Rikuzen-Takasago Middle School shelter in Sendai Stu Levy wrote on The New Yorker blog: “Victims offered each other the few bites of food they had. They shared blankets, helped clean each other’s sleeping areas, and worked together silently, peacefully. The entire time, I never witnessed a single altercation, argument, or fight. I was moved by the line of men that formed to help carry the heavy bags of rice and boxes of vegetables into the shelter---like an assembly line, each person grabbed a box and passed it on until the entire truck was unloaded. Men clearly in their seventies or eighties insisted on shouldering their burden along with the younger, stronger men. We would shout out the box’s contents (“Cabbage!”) and every man along the line would repeat it back enthusiastically.”

Free Beer and Waiting for Water in Sendai After the 2011 Tsunami

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Toppled Water Tank
Mark Magnier and Barbara Demick reported in the Los Angeles Times,” In the downtown area, the office towers glistened in the morning sunlight. One could see barely any obvious trace of Friday's disaster. But the stark modernity of 21st century Japan made the deprivation more startling. Residents with shopping bags waited in a queue that, except for the people's immaculate clothing, looked straight out of the Soviet Union. The only store operating was a Lawson's convenience shop. The sliding glass doors opened every few minutes to admit five customers; they were each permitted to buy two bottles of mineral water and two packages of noodles.” "We're getting worried now. There is no food, no water," said Hitomi Auzai, 25, an engineering student. "It's almost three days now." [Source: Mark Magnier and Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, March 14, 2011]

John Garnaut, Sydney Morning Herald, “The industrial lands around Sendai port have been obliterated and a blazing fire from an oil storage tank lights up the sky. Trucks have been crushed and pile up on each other like aluminum cans, factories have been flattened and their contents spill all over the surrounding lands. [John Garnaut, Sydney Morning Herald, March 14, 2011]

John Garnaut, Sydney Morning Herald, “Outside one of those factories belonging to the famous beer company Kirin, residents work out how to solve their dehydration challenge. Littered across the mud and debris, for as far as the eye can see, are thousands of kegs and what seems like a million cans of slightly shaken but perfectly chilled beer. People who have been without water for days are fossicking and filling plastic bags with the next best thing. ''This is quite some luck,'' says a Sendai lad, cracking open a Kirin wheat beer as the sun sets behind him and a blazing fire from the oil refinery behind him begins to light up the sky.” [John Garnaut, Sydney Morning Herald, March 14, 2011]

“Natsuko Komura...told us she had been riding her horse here when the earthquake struck. She jumped in her car and fled, along with many others, as the waves approached. "The traffic lights had stopped working and there was massive congestion, rows and rows of cars," she told me. Now she had come back to see if she could find her horse. But she couldn't even recognise where roads used to be, unable to find her bearings because the tsunami has altered everything.Vehicles swept into a canal by tsunami waves."Words fail me," she said, "because there is nothing here, the things that are supposed to be here, everything is gone." [Ibid]

Account by an English Teacher in Kesennuma

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On what became of Jessica Besecker, a 24-year-old English teacher in Kesennuma in Miyagi Prefecture, Elizabeth Flock wrote in the Washington Post, “Snow fell..and the wind picked up after the quake. “The kids were shivering in their uniforms; Besecker shivered in her shorts. The teachers rushed to gather metal buckets and wood from school projects to make small bonfires. Some of the boys found tents that they had used for Sports Day. Other kids got tatami mats out of the judo house so they didn’t have to sit on wet dirt. The students huddled inside the tents for warmth. A few snack cakes and drinks that had been prepared for graduation were doled out. Besecker had Girl Scout cookies in her bag and invited the children to taste “American cookies.” [Source: Elizabeth Flock, Washington Post, March 29, 2011]

“As night fell, news came of what the rest of Kesennuma looked like. The waters had gone up to the second floor of a nearby building. The roads were washed out. Some of the students’ parents came to pick them up, but others were left behind and climbed into the school bus to sleep. The other teachers crawled into their cars.” [Ibid]

“Huddling in her vehicle under a tiny blanket, Besecker still had no idea of how bad the damage was. S he learned that the friend she was supposed to pick up that day was safe. But she didn’t yet know that another close friend and teacher, with whom she had just gone on a two-week vacation to Seoul, had died on her bicycle in the tsunami wave.She didn’t know that others would go missing or die too: the owner of a local dance club, a chef, a friend from the Kesennuma bars.” [Ibid]

Survivors on a Small Island

Robert D. Eldridge wrote in the Daily Yomiuri, “Oshima island is located in Kesennuma Bay, about a 25-minute ferry ride from Kesennuma Port. It is about in nine square kilometers in size. Prior to the earthquake and tsunami, it had a recorded population of 3,478, and 1,127 households, although many of the young people went to school and adults sought employment on the mainland. Tourism and fishing were two of its main industries. It is one of the prettiest and well-kept islands I have ever been to, its people friendly, and the school children the most polite.” [Source: Robert D. Eldridge, Daily Yomiuri, June 30, 2011]

“Despite the degree of destruction, an amazingly small number of people lost their lives in the tsunami on Oshima. Approximately 40 people died or are missing due to the tsunami that engulfed the island and reached far inland. There are several reasons why so few were lost, some of which are universal lessons, while others are related to the particular geography of Oshima and the local situation. Officials and the people from Oshima are the first to admit they were very lucky.” [Ibid]

“The biggest lesson appears to be that, for the most part, the islanders had a deep understanding that tsunami can result from earthquakes, and that earthquakes need to be taken seriously. Due to the strength of the March 11 earthquake (magnitude-9.0), the islanders knew it was a bad one and would likely be followed by a tsunami. Few hesitated to get to high ground. In Oshima's case, high ground is not far, being a hilly island. The distance people had to travel, therefore, was not far. If there was any doubt about the need to get to high ground, the warning messages sent out over the community address system removed them, prompting people to evacuate.” [Ibid]

“Fortunately, the three schools--a preschool, an primary school, and middle school--are built on high ground in the central part of the island. In addition, the community center, which served as the central gathering point for supplies, information, and disaster response, is also located on high ground, in between the three schools. Another thing that was fortuitous was the time of day the earthquake happened--2:46 p.m. The children were still in school. As a result, not one of the 200 school-age children was killed (although there were some close calls for those who were home at the time).” [Ibid]

“I could not help but ask if, overall, the islanders did relatively well to survive the tsunami, why then were several dozen lost? There are several reasons, according to anecdotal evidence. First, several households thought their homes were on high enough ground or in safe enough locations. They simply did not expect the tsunami to be so big. It exceeded their expectations in the worst possible way. Others ran back to get things they left at the home when they evacuated and thus got washed away. Still others had no experience with earthquakes and tsunami and did not anticipate the degree of Mother Nature's might. If they heard the warning announcements, they must not have taken them seriously.” [Ibid]

Eldridge wrote in the Daily Yomiuri, on Oshima island four of the island's gas and service stations were located along the coast on low ground. They were destroyed, which has made the recovery difficult. Not only water and food, but fuel is necessary in the wake of a disaster, especially in winter. The recovery in the early stages after the tsunami was also hampered due to the fact that the island was cut off from the rest of the city, and indeed, the rest of the country. No ferry service was available, nor could any boats go out due to all the debris in the water.” [Source: Robert D. Eldridge, Daily Yomiuri, June 30, 2011]

“The Oshima islanders collected and shared all their food and rationed it out, cooking okayu to fill everyone's stomachs and keep them warm. Not knowing when help would come, they ate sparingly, only once or twice a day. About a week following the quake, when food and water were near exhausted, relief supplies started to be flown in and then delivered by ships, and the U.S. Marines from the USS Essex went there to help with the clean-up, deliver relief supplies, and provide support to the evacuation centers.” [Ibid]

Looking for Friends and Relatives in Iwanuma and Natori


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Reporting from Iwanuma and Natori,Barbara Demick and Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times, “The lists name survivors housed in evacuation centers, long printed lists hanging from bulletin boards in buildings that usually serve as culture halls, junior high schools and city government headquarters. Then there are the makeshift notes, written in green and red felt pen, messages to reassure loved ones who may also have survived. “Otomo Takako here,” says one among the many ringing the double doors of the Natori City Hall. “Please don't worry about us. We are safe.” “I'm in the offices of the Tire-Off company, reads another. “Come find me there, my dear son Kazuki.”[Source: Barbara Demick and Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times, March 14, 2011]

“There is no central list of the missing, the tens of thousands of people still unaccounted for since Friday's massive earthquake and tsunami lurched and propelled their way through the now-grieving coastal towns of northeastern Japan. “People go from one center to another to look for family,” said Shigeki Yamamota, who was manning the front desk at the Nagamachi Minami elementary school, one of dozens in Sendai, the region's largest city.” [Ibid]

"People are getting increasingly angry that they can't find out who is dead and who is alive,” said Chizuko Nakajima, a senior citizen department worker at Natori City Hall, who was helping distribute food to the newly homeless Monday. Canvassing neighborhoods is next to impossible: The tsunami waves so rearranged the landscape that in the Iwanuma neighborhood where Shuko Aizawa's 99-year-old mother lived, a yellow house was picked up and plopped down nearly intact a mile away, across a canal and a four-lane road to land on top of a gas station. Bodies also were swept from one neighborhood to the next, or else out to sea.” [Ibid]

Still, with no official information forthcoming, the best that Aizawa could do was to search in the mud where the once-pretty seaside community near the Sendai airport had stood. Aizawa, wearing yellow rubber boots, slogged through a neighborhood reduced to swampland. Clutching her husband's arm with one hand, a designer purse in the other, she climbed over a toppled pine tree, stepped around scattered blue roof tiles and walked gingerly past a harpsichord buried in the mud. “We tried all the evacuation centers. We went to this one, then the other, then they sent us somewhere else,” said a sobbing Aizawa, a trim, well-dressed woman in her early 70s. “There was no information, so we came here.” But the mud was not forthcoming, either. Aizawa could not recognize her mother's street, let alone the house. “Is this the street? Where's that intersection?” she repeatedly asked her equally befuddled husband. [Ibid]

“Others continue to search evacuation centers, hoping against hope to find a handwritten note or a name on a list. People seeking relatives have traveled between myriad sites, not easy, given that most public transport is shut down and gasoline is in acutely short supply. They often wind up scribbling notes of their own on doors or chalkboards. school, volunteers said that on Sunday alone, 2,000 people came looking for relatives. Two of the notes there read: “Gone to Grandma's house.” “Look for me in Fukushima.” [Ibid]

“About a dozen agencies have announced websites for information about the missing, including one hosted by Google. But there is no consolidated site, let alone functioning computers in many affected areas, making it difficult to decide where to look. The International Committee of the Red Cross announced Monday that it was also launching a page. “The information is kind of spread out. In each evacuation camp, they improvise their own lists,” said Hiromasa Kato, an assistant professor of engineering, who was staying in a shelter in Sendai. "You might think of Japan as very high-tech, but these local administrations use very outdated systems.”" [Ibid]

Life Goes on in Rikuzentakata With Dwindling Hope 10 Days After the Tsunami

Michael Wines wrote in New York Times, “Life goes on here, as much as life can go on in a place where 4 in 10 people live in camps, their old lives gone forever. But many in Rikuzentakata seem to exist in suspended animation, clinging to fantasies of a family-reuniting miracle, but bracing for the worst. Futoshi Toba, the town's 46-year-old mayor, is among them. On that Friday afternoon, he huddled on the third-floor roof of city hall as the wave crashed over the building and erased virtually everything else in sight, including his home. ''I lost my wife,'' he said in a conversation at the makeshift emergency center in the hills outside town, then quietly added, ''Maybe.'' [Source: Michael Wines, New York Times, March 22, 2011]

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Supply Delays

In Takata Junior High School, the city's largest evacuation center...an alcove wall was filled with scrawled pleas for help finding vanished friends and relatives. Fliers plastered an adjoining wall, many with poignant snapshots of the missing in happier times. ''The friends from the kindergarten hope you are O.K.,'' one read. ''Grandma and Grandpa,'' said another, ''we are looking for you.'' Beside them stood a woman holding a handwritten sign taped to a piece of cardboard. The sign read, ''We are looking for Takata High School students and teachers.''

''We only have one high school in our city,'' said Tsutomu Nakai, 61, a retired businessman who oversees the refugee center. ''Our hopes for the future rested on the acts of Takata High School students.'' ''The students have a lot of energy,'' the vice principal, Toshimitsu Omodera, said at another refugee center, called Sun Village, where many students and teachers are housed. ''And their clubs were in the top class of the prefecture.''

People here say it is still possible that some of the missing could be lost in Rikuzentakata's 60-plus evacuation centers, where more than 9,400 citizens -- some 40 percent of the town -- have taken shelter. Ten days after the tsunami hit, that seems difficult to believe. But in a town that has not much else but hope to cling to, people believe it anyway.

Survivors About Two Weeks after the Tsunami

Reporting about 12 days after the earthquake and tsunami, Fackler wrote in the New York Times: “In Ayukawahama Seiko Taira said that food shortages here were particularly acute because the tsunami washed out roads, cutting off Ayukawahama for several days. She said she had neglected to store her own food, and was reduced to feeding her four children and one grandchild a single cup of instant ramen noodles and a few pieces of bread per day. Ms. Taira, 54, said she had grown so desperate that she scavenged the tsunami wreckage for food. On Thursday, picking through the debris near the site of Ayukawa Whaling’s office, her 17-year-old daughter, Yumi, found a can of whale meat. She proudly held up the prize to her mother. [Source: Martin Fackler, New York Times, March 24, 2011

“Farther south, in the city of Fukushima, gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants were closed, and convenience stores had no food or drinks to sell -- only cigarettes. Red Cross water tankers dispensed drinking water to Fukushima residents who waited in long, orderly lines.”

From Ishinomaki the Washington Post reported, “Mayor Kameyama now spends his days struggling to comfort the citizens of Ishinomaki and trying to calm mounting anger over the shortage of food. He sleeps on a couch in his office. He worries about nuclear radiation.The tsunami caused damage at a nuclear power plant in nearby Onagawa, and though officials say the danger there has passed, the mayor remains anxious. Eighty-five miles down the coast, workers for the Tokyo Electric Power Co. are struggling to bring the six-reactor Fukushima Daiichi complex under control.” [Source: Andrew Higgins, Brigid Schulte and Joel Achenbach, Washington Post, March 29, 2011]

There was another aftershock Monday in Ishinomaki, and a tsunami warning. A false alarm, it turned out, but the authorities discovered that the batteries on many of the emergency loudspeakers no longer work. Officials scrambled to replace them. By Tuesday, 2,283 corpses had been identified in Ishinomaki, and 2,643 people were still missing. Nearly 23,000 people were in shelters, and thousands more shivered in damaged and waterlogged homes.”

Three weeks after the disaster daily necessities were still scarce at supermarkets and convenience stores in the quake-stricken area and rice-ball factories said they couldn’t make their products because of shortages of ingredients but at least about 85 percent of the stores that had been closed after the quake and tsunami had reopened. Among the improvised solutions to problems presented by the disaster were opening temporary supermarkets in places where store buildings had been washed away by tsunami waves and providing delivery services to people that lost their cars. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, April 4, 2011]

Transportation remained insufficient in quake- and tsunami-stricken areas. People often had to resort to hitchhiking or walking to get anywhere. Those fortunate to have vehicles had to scrounge for gasoline. In the shelters, mothers with small children were having a tough go. They had to deal with crying babies, shell-shocked toddlers, finding foods their children would eat and keeping everybody healthy. There were shortages of portable generators as people tried to produce their own energy supplies. Gasoline prices rose to over ¥150 a liter ($7 a gallon).

Newspapers offered tips on things like making diapers from plastic bags and diapers; tying a child to your back with a rope; managing without running water; and keeping warm if no heat sources are available. Among the advise offered was putting water in plastic bags and plastic-bag-lined buckets if no water containers are available and wrapping yourself in curtains if no blankets are available. Anybody that could wal or ride a bike to where they were going were told to do that rather than drive or take public transportation.

In functioning hospitals pregnant women who had fled devastated hospitals gave birth to newborns as victims done in by poor health and the cold were pronounced dead. In other hospitals patients died when ventilators and dialysis machine keeping them alive stopped working when the power went out.

One month after the disaster about 150,000 people were still living in shelters. The Yomiuri Shimbun reported, based on inquiries at hospitals in the quack stricken areas, 282 people died after the earthquake and tsunami as a result of being exposed to cold temperatures and unsanitary conditions in the evacuation shelters. Most of those who died were elderly.

Self-Control and Orderliness After the Disaster

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There was some hoarding of fuel in quake-stricken areas and panic-buying of bottled water and rice and other necessities but no real looting unless you consider scavenging for food, firewood and cooking pots looting. Ben Macintyre wrote in the Times of London, “Japan is prostrate and fearful, but there are no reports of widespread looting, panic or hoarding. There is, as yet, very little anger directed at the government. Western news crews search the wreckage for images of fear and anguish, for outrage and despair, but the Japanese survivors avert their faces and cover their eyes if they weep.” [Source: Ben Macintyre, Times of London, March 20 2011]

“This extraordinary stoicism can be summed up by the Japanese word gaman, a concept that defies easy translation but broadly means calm forbearance, perseverance and poise in the face of events beyond one's control. Gaman reflects a distinctively Japanese mentality, the direct consequence of geography and history in a country where the cycle of destruction and renewal is embedded in the national psyche. The Japanese are not earthquake-proof but, like their buildings and bridges, resilience has become inbuilt in a nation adapted to sway and bend under shocks that would shatter other societies. Japan has known devastation before, and the horror of nuclear fallout, but its recovery after 1945, and the ensuing economic miracle, owed much to this uncomplaining tenacity, a collective pride in endurance, survival and reconstruction.” [Ibid]

“Gaman is part of the glue that holds Japanese society together, a way of thought instilled from an early age. It implies self-restraint, suffering in silence, denying oneself gratification and self-expression to fit in with the greater good. Originally a Buddhist term, it has come to signify self-denial, solidarity and a certain patient fatalism. This hardiness and social cohesion enabled Japan to emerge from the devastation of world war and thrive. But the rigid order and self-abnegation that it implies are also what keeps the beleaguered "salaryman" at his desk, toiling away with grim determination. That rigid conformity, obedience and sense of national purpose helped to propel Japan recklessly into World War II. Some in the West find the Japanese unfeeling in their reaction to disaster, and assume that "normal" human emotions are being suppressed.” [Ibid]

“The Japanese are coping in ways that some find hard to relate to: with deep sadness, but without breast-beating, complaint or recrimination. It is hard to imagine any other people who, when the Earth buckles and their world collapses, form an orderly queue. The contrast is illustrated by the way the tragedy has been covered. Western reporters stand before a backdrop of utter desolation; Japanese reporters tend to find a wider view, with a standing building. They do not thrust microphones towards the homeless and bereaved, demanding to know how they "feel". At a moment of acute national pain, the Japanese audience does not want to intrude.” [Ibid]

Laura King wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “She was elderly and alone, injured and in pain. When the massive earthquake struck, a heavy bookshelf toppled onto Hiroko Yamashita, pinning her down and shattering her ankle.When paramedics finally reached her, agonizing hours later, Yamashita did what she said any "normal" person would do, her son-in-law recounted later: She apologized to them for the inconvenience, and asked if there weren't others they should be attending to first.” [Source: Laura King, Los Angeles Times, March 13, 2011]

"I am trying hard not to let people see how scared I am," said Masaki Tajima, a hotel clerk in Utsunomiya, north of Tokyo. Closer to the quake zone, there were cracks in the studied courtesy. At a gas station in Koriyama, about 130 miles north of Tokyo, some customers become anxious and agitated as fuel ran short, attendants said. Kenji Sato, an attendant of 12 years, recited apologies, trying to soothe people. "Sorry, no more gas, very sorry," he intoned.

Elsewhere, though, the ingrained instinct for orderliness and calm has kept its hold even amid difficult moments. In Tokyo and its suburbs, the quake knocked out much of the usually clockwork-reliable public-transportation system. Yet when trains finally appeared on a few crucial routes, the queue was as orderly as on any mundane commuting day. Once aboard, people sat quietly, gazing at their cellphones in hope of an elusive signal. “It would be uncivilized to try to push and shove, and what good would it do anyway?" said Kojo Saeseki, helping his wife onto a crowded train on the city's outskirts.”

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Evacuation Shelter Helicopter Pad

Emperor and Empress Comfort Evacuees

In late April, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko visited evacuation centers in quake- and tsunami-hit Miyagi, Iwater and Fukushima prefectures. They sat on their knees and chatted with evacuees and offered words of sympathy and encouragement, saying “Any problems with your health?” and “Take care, please.” The Imperial couple had wanted to visit earlier but their frail health and other reasons delayed them. Even though the Imperial palace was not subject to the rolling blackouts imposed on Tokyo the Emperor and Empress showed solidarity with the those who were suffering by reduced their electricity consumption by eating simple meals by candlelight. They also donated food from the Imperial livestock farm and opened the hot spring bath at the Nasu Imperial villa in Nasumachi in Tochigi Prefecture to evacuees.

The Emperor and the Empress made several visits the quake- and tsunami-stricken areas. In May, Kyodo reported, they visited Fukushima Prefecture to give their support to evacuees who have been forced to flee their homes due the earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. The Imperial couple offered prayers as Fukushima Gov Yuhei Sato held an umbrella for them in Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, and handed condolence money for disaster victims from their private coffers. Their visit to Fukushima, was the couple’s fifth to a prefecture hit by the disaster following Chiba, Ibaraki, Miyagi and Iwate.

According to Kyodo the Imperial couple took a helicopter to an evacuation center at a gymnasium in the city of Fukushima, where residents from Minamisoma were taking shelter, and also a shelter in Soma, where over 400 people had been killed or are still unaccounted for. The royal couple also thanked members of the SDF, police and firefighters working to retrieve bodies of the victims in the quake-hit areas.

Ultraman Visits Evacuation Center

In July 2011, the popular TV character Ultraman visited an evacuation center in the disaster-hit Fukushima Prefecture to cheer up families and children on Sunday. The late Eiji Tsuburaya, who invented Ultraman, was from Sukagawa City in the prefecture. Staff from his Tokyo-based production firm visited the facility in Koriyama City 45 years after the character made his TV debut. [Source: japan-afterthebigearthquake.blogspot.com July 11, 2011]

A boy who evacuated from Tomioka Town says it was fun to meet Ultraman, and he likes the way he attacks his enemies. The boy's 36-year-old mother says she is happy, as the evacuation center does not have a place where children can play.

Videos of the Tsunami

Video of Tsunami Evacuation Centers


Emperor Visits Evacuation Center


Evacuation Center Takes Pets


Survivor Story from Young Boy

Image Sources: 1) U.S. Navy; 2) United States Geological Survey USGS); 3) National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); 4) NASA

Text Sources: New York Times, Yomiuri Shimbun, Daily Yomiuri, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Kyodo News, National Geographic, The Guardian. Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated April 2011

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