Sunday, April 17, 2011

Trip to MinamiSanriku

I must first gratefully acknowledge Angelika, Mateen, Mandelah and baby for their very generous and timely help which sponsored this entire trip.

Our first pick up of food and water from at Costco on our way home from a trip to the U.S. We bought 600kgs of water and 100 kgs of food. That was all our van could handle but our goal was about 1.5 tons using our 2 ton truck. We had heard water and other supplies were in short supply so we wanted to get what we could right away. Another Costco trip got us another 700kgs of bottled water and we were set. Costco had some days where they rationed water but we were able to get what we wanted in just 2 pickup runs. All large batteries were sold out as were all the large cans of tuna at the second pick up but we had our load and were set to go. We must say thanks to Costco as most supermarkets were rationing bottled water at two 500cc bottles per person! One Costco had closed due to earthquake damage but the 2 we visited were very helpful.
Loading up for our trip

James and I left at 4.00am Saturday the 16th April. The Cherry blossom was fading but the petals still strewed the roads. As we drove north the cherry trees became in full bloom and it was a beautiful sight. All the sights of a lovely April spring. No signs yet of what we were soon to see. Half way up, the roads became quite bumpy and were our first indication things were not the normal well run infrastructure of Japan. As this was a month after the quake,  most of the highway had been repaired though somewhat hurriedly. We passed the Fukushima nuclear plant but at a safe distance--about 70kms. More and more police cars and army trucks appeared on the roads--normally an unusual sight. Our destination was MinamiSanriku--about 450 kms north of Tokyo and about 100 kms north of Fukushima. This had been one of the hardest hit areas. 

James had been to MinamiSanriku 2 times already, taking supplies from a volunteer organization operating from Akita, to a local hotel that had been designated as a community center. He had spend several weeks there an had arrived there not long after the Tsunami happened. We chose this place as we knew that there was a tremendous need and that these supplies would be put to use right away. Cresting through a small forest, the road led down the the coast and I saw for the first time what the Tsunami had done.
It was like a giant broom had swept everything off the coast. Railways, bridges, power lines, buildings--all pushed into the surrounding hills. Such total and utter destruction. Looking at the now placid sea it was hard to imagine the sights and sounds of a month ago. 

We drove to the main community center for the area--a 5 star hotel that fortunately had a back up generator. It had been housing the repair crews. We noticed the vehicles had come from all over Japan. We could see that quite a lot had been accomplished. Power was getting to a lot of the area--though that was the easiest utility. Bridges had connected most areas. Clean water and sewage was still a problem being dealt with by temporary measures. This hotel were to receive 500 evacuees the next day. We dropped our food off there and were then taken to a smaller center further down the coast. There we unloaded the water. It was a amazing experience to see these hardy fishermen (and women) and farmers resigned to rebuilding their villages and lifestyles again. we could not help feel an admiration for their courage under such hardship. It was very hard for these self-reliant and capable people to accept help but they did graciously and even offered us lunch. I felt privileged to just be there.

We returned to the hotel where we met 3 other trucks that were arriving and dropping off supplies. We know that the need was tremendous but were glad to have done something

Most of the supplies we saw arriving were from individuals who just did what they could. One friend came up with a truck load of tatame mats and replaced a few house's floors. Another small team of young people had driven up from Osaka with cooking equipment and spend the afternoon serving hot meals. We saw them return homeward--about a 1,000km journey!  We took our hats off to them.

Its hard to describe this destruction. Almost everything that had been hit by the tsunami--in some places 37 meters high, were obliterated, yet houses just above it were untouched. We saw a car placed by the wave--almost gently, on top of a highrise building. 
The car on top was hardly damaged!

The following pictures give some idea of how things are and how long it will take to get back to some sense of normalcy. One thing for sure is if anyone can make anew start, these folk can.

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