13th May: Survey of demand around Tsunami-affected Tono(Tohno) village

Two months have passed since the disaster of the 11th March. Recovery operations are progressing quickly in various places, but villages around the deeply indented, difficult to reach, Sanriku-coast are still in the state they were left after the Tsunami struck. The coast road that runs along the small peninsula only sees few military or construction vehicles passing-by. “Tono(Tohno) Magokoro Net” supports such isolated areas which are almost forgotten by the media. Currently a demand-supply survey is being undertaken by us to meet people`s needs.

Nehama-Town, entirely covered with sand

Having received information that there are some people staying in a large guesthouse in the town, we headed to Hakozaki Peninsula, situated between Kamaishi City and Otsuki Town. Off the Route 45, through the deformed bumpy road of Hakozaki Town, we reached Nehama. Nehama Beach is located in Kamaishi-Unosumai Town. It used to be famous for its beautiful white sand and vivid green pine forest. In fact, although many buildings are shown on our GPS’ screen, we could not see anything at all in front of us. Both sides of the main street along the coast are buried deeply by the sand that the tsunami brought to the whole area. There were no signs of any people at all. As we continued we saw several houses lying sideways amongst piled-up debris. Soon we were forced to stop by a huge puddle in the middle of the road- water was filling the huge crack made by the earthquake. Turning back we took the hillside road instead. After a while finally the sea appeared below us. The once famous ‘bustling-beach-’ could no longer be distinguished from the sand deposite by the tsunami.

Nehama used to be a beautiful sandy beach

The guesthouse on Nehama beach our first destination, has, since the tsunami, been removed from the list of evacuation shelters. We found a list of the casualties in the area stuck on the front door. It shows more than ten names. There was also information that several people had left their hometown and moved to nearby cities such as Morioka and Kamaishi.

Feeling helpless we gave some operation workers the support aid that we brought with us. Further on we went through a tunnel to visit Hakozaki town. It was as bad as Nehama- 2 sq. kilometers of pile of debris. Around the town centre —which we could only guess was the town centre — we spotted over twenty military vehicles of various sizes. The military personnel were still searching for the missing on their hands and knees.

We found a large house at the end of the town on top of higher land. It was just about managing to stand. Mr Kawasaki (65), the owner of the house was busy trying to get rid of the debris around his house.

Mr Kawasaki’s house located on land 17 meters above sea level. A vending machine is on the roof of the ground floor.

Mr Kawasaki used to own a local specialty seaweed factory, along with two boats and three cars. He lost everything in the tsunami. Although the house is still standing the condition is not safe enough to accommodate its inhabitants.

“This house is 17 meters above the sea. My grandfather, who had his own house on the beach washed away in the 1933 Tsunami, built this house on this hill. We used to enjoy the beautiful view and fresh sea food everyday. What a fantastic life it was. We all knew that another tsunami would hit this village, but we felt confident that it wouldn`t come as high as this. Then the black wave came, higher than you could ever imagine, swirling like madness. Despite being a fairly brave man, I could not stop shaking with fear. Pulling my wife’s hand I hurried up the hill. When I turned back Hakozaki Town had disappeared into the sea. Within 30 minutes all that I owned went under the water. I lost everything.”

Mr Kawasaki, showing the height of Tsunami

Almost all the more than 300 houses in town were destroyed. More than 80 people lost their lives and 30 people are still missing. Mr Kawasaki’s son and his wife, after two months living in the emergency shelter in town, left to live in a newly-built pre-fab in Kamaishi City. “Because there is no primary school for my grandson in this town anymore, they couldn’t stay here.” Mr Kawasaki muttered disappointedly.

Sadly our volunteer-work regulations do not allow us to help removing debris where there is any health-and-safety risk to us. We could only tell Mr Kawasaki that we would contact him during the following week, after contacting the local volunteer group that he has already asked for help. Mr Kawasaki, who bought a small second-hand truck after the tsunami, said, “Are you from Tono, what a coincidence, I bought this car there. Tono, for us fishermen, is the place for leisure to enjoy hiking and picking wild plants… I have never dreamed of visiting there to buy a car or expecting some volunteer workers from there to rescue us.” We gave Mr Kawasaki 20 litres of petrol that we had brought with us, then left Hakozaki Town, feeling gloomy.

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