From the National Police Agency(Details in Japanese)
From the National Police Agency(Details in Japanese)
Experience in Minami Sanriku - 2011
From May 28th until June 5th, I volunteered in Minami Sanriku with the Tokyo Disaster Volunteer Network (TDVN), through an organization called Youth for 3.11. Our volunteering started out with a 6 hour bus ride to the Shizugawa area in Miyagi Prefecture. Our base camp was the second floor of the Community Health Center in a town called Toyoma in Tome city, a 20 minute car ride from Shizugawa. The historic town is also known as Miyagi's Meiji Village, and you can see many buildings from the turn of the 19th century (Meiji Era: 1868-1912). Although Toyoma also experienced a seismic intensity of near 7, because there were no effects of the Tsunami, utilities were still functioning. At this point, we had no idea how different of a situation Shizugawa was in, a town only around couple hills away. However, because the houses in Toyoma are old, there were many houses that were destroyed or had entrances or the entire house slanted from the quake.
Even after three months from the disaster, Shizugawa still had debris and rubbles everywhere, and had no water running. Pieces of houses, boats, and cars sat in the middle of where a house probably once stood. This Shizugawa area, which is a part of Minami Sanriku Town, is known for the 4 story Public Hospital that completely submerged under water and the Disaster Prevention Center where the worker called out to the towns people to evacuate until the waves washed her away. Just a few meters away from the Disaster Prevention Center, there was a knocked down sign that marked how high the waves were when the Tsunami from Chile hit in 1980. I imagined that the waves this time, were at least five times as high. The guardrails on the bridge that crossed a small river were bent from the waves and the debris, and the skeletal Disaster Prevention Center told how high those powerful waves were. The hospital still had a boat stuck into the windown on the second floor, the steam locomotive that was showcased nearby laid on its side, with dents on its heavy metal body. The apartments near the coast line remained mostly without much damage, structurely, but there were fishing nets all over the roofs of the building. What surprized me even more was that the house on the top of a hill was also partially broken. While we were there, on June 3rd, the water system came back at the Shizugawa Middle School Evacuation Center; however, because the water was contaminated with sea water, they still had to rely on the water supplied by the Japanes Self Defense Force (JSDF). By this time, the JSDF had started to decrease its numbers. They started to bring in more laundry machines and other utilities, and taught them how to use it. This was also around the time when the evacuees started to move into temporary housings. However, because these people lost everything they ever owned, living "independently" in these housing was not something people were confident in doing. At the same time, if these people were not to move into these housings, some people worried that they were never going to be able to move forward. One of the biggest problems the people faced, was being separated from their original neighbors. People in the region lived closely with their neighbors, and thus did not want to be separated. Some met new people at the evacuation shelters, and worried that they would once more be separated from their new neighbors when time came for them to move to the temporary housings.
Our volunteer group was divided into four groups. Helping out at the Shizugawa High School Shelter, Shizugawa Middle School Shelter, the picture collection at the Former Iriya Elementary School, and the Cookout. At the High School and at the Middle School, we helped out with the volunteering activities that were taking place at that time, by cleaning the bathrooms, playing with small children, dropping off and picking up children from schools, and talking with the elders. At the picture collection, pictures that were picked up by the Police, JSDF, Search and Rescue squads and cleaned at the Volunteer Center, were showcased. These pictures were displayed so that people could come look for their pictures and to take them home with them, should they find anything of theirs. In addition, we had the visitors place post-it notes on the pictures if they recognized the pictured individual(s). The amount of pictures that came in for display were enormous, and one would definitely not be able to go through them in one day. As such, there were many people that came to the School in search of their past memories. Lastly, the cookout. We went to different shelters everyday, and in addition to cooking for the evacuees, we also spent some time talking to them, as a method of mental care. The majority of the evacuees were around our grandparents' age, and so they talked to us as if we were their grandchildren. In general, the average age in the Tohoku area is high, and so the evacuees found us, people in the early twenties, refreshing. Whether it was forced or not, we would never know, but we saw many smiles while we were there. Every day, we spent about two to three hours after lunch, talking while eating some snacks and drinking tea.