Satoshi Endo describes the nightmare of rescue efforts
May 24, 2012 Fukushima, Japan—"When I saw the 'black wave', I was thinking of Indonesia," said Tomomi Sato through a translator. "The earthquake was bad but the tsunami was really scary. I was lucky because I could run but I knew that old people could not run and there was nothing I could do." "While I was running I thought maybe I should go back and get my car so that I could get away from the 'black wave' but when I looked back my car was floating already." She ran faster. Sato who once worked at the local hospital is now employed only part time at the information center in the Fukushima Prefecture in the Hisanohama Temporary Shopping Street in Iwaki. The walls of the information center are plastered with hundreds of photos taken in the aftermath of Japan's most devastating natural disaster. Even seeing is not believing the devastation of a Japan's largest measured earthquake followed by a wall of water 7.44 meters high, nearly 24 and a half feet. To compound matters 85,000 buildings were damaged in Iwaki alone when in mid April an earthquake measuring 6.0 on the Japanese scale centered directly below Fukushima let loose its fury. Iwaki City's losses are low compared to some other Eastern Japan cities. "Only" 310 people died in Iwaki in the March 11, 2011 disasters and "only" 37 people are still considered to be missing. Fukushima Prefecture had a total of 1605 deaths and 214 are still considered missing. The Miyagi Prefecture suffered 9,516 fatalities and 1,581 are missing. Iwate Prefecture had 4,671 fatalities and 1,222 are missing. Wrecked ghost ships are stacked at the Iwaki port, along with the carcass of one lonely silver minivan, but most of the rubble from the disaster is gone. "Since the rubble has been removed it feels like progress but while it was here it felt desperate," Sato said. 60 kilometers of snaggle toothed seawalls and coastline serve as a reminder, as if Iwaki's residents would ever need to be reminded, of the devastation that occurred on March 11, 2011.
Tomomi Sato describes the horror of March 11, 2011
Eight journalists from the Pacific Islands invited by the government of Japan toured the hardest hit area of Iwaki in the Hisonahama district. It was rainy and cold with an umbrella inverting wind. The forecast was for 15 degrees Celsius but it was colder than that and the wind chill factor had to be near freezing as we shuffled amongst the foundations of long gone homes near the Hisonahama shoreline. We quickly glanced at the broken sea wall and many of us braved a climb onto it to see the crashing ocean beyond it. We listened with chattering teeth as our guides told us that the two seemingly intact houses that remained were uninhabitable due to sea water inundation and we glanced at the "red gate" of one of three Buddhist shrines that had survived the tsunami against all odds though all structures around them were destroyed. But throughout the tour we not so secretly longed for the heat of the bus and when the time came to board we made a dash for it. Later one survivor of the March 11, 2011 Eastern Japan disaster told us that many residents were walking around in short pants on the afternoon of the earthquake. She said that after the earthquake skies blackened and it began to snow. "We really thought it was the end of the world when the black wave came." We cringed to think of how it must have been on that day and some of us hung our heads in shame. We hadn't experienced anything like they had experienced and what we experienced was plenty tough on us. Satoshi Endo, 36, is still a volunteer firefighter. He was one of hundreds of people working to rescue those who were trapped and injured after the tsunami. The devastation, injury and loss of life was hard to take but he didn't have time to stop and think about it. "These were people who were kind to me all of my life," he said. "The sanitary conditions were very bad," he said. The air was bad and he waded in waste water sludge for hours on end working to rescue his neighbors. He was very lucky. Even a small cut in such conditions could have resulted in an infection that could easily have killed him or at least have made him deathly ill. Again he said he didn't have time to stop and think about that. He that said death had a deep effect on all of the rescuers.
Katsuo Sato and his wife talk about their drastically altered future
"As Buddhists we would normally stop and pray but we just didn't have the time." They didn't have time to properly say goodby to their departed neighbors until the Buddhist festival in August, a time when the dead are said to come back and inhabit their original dwellings. And after touching dead bodies with his bare hands all day there was no place to wash. Again, he had no time to think about it when it came time to eat. He had to eat. By the time the disaster struck, Katsuo Sato who is now 70 years old had been operating his successful appliance store 100 meters from the Iwaki shoreline for 50 years and he had been considering the possibility of retirement. The tsunami did not destroy his building; the place where he and his wife also lived and where his children grew up. The fires that followed did that. But none of the disasters: the earthquake, the tsunami, the fires, or the radiation from the damaged Daiichi, Fukushima power plant over 50 kilometers away could destroy his determination. "This disaster will not beat me," he said, and his wife went into the back room unable to contain her tears. Ironically, he claims the relief efforts of the Red Cross may have put a damper on the future prospects for his business.
A lonely Pacific Island journalist surveys the damage in the
Hisanohama devestated area
The Red Cross provided appliance sets to thousands of refugees living in temporary housing units. They were desperately needed but Mr. Sato said that he didn't know where the appliances were purchased but they were not purchased through his business or any local businesses he knew of. "They (residents of temporary housing units) will already have appliances if they decide to come back," he said. Like the 10 other business owners on the Hisonohama Temporary Shopping Street who were displaced by the East Japan disasters Mr. Sato can occupy his tiny business quarters for three years rent free. The structure was provided by the central government. Business owners at the Hisanohama Temporary Shopping Street treated Pacific Islands journalists like long lost friends and when some of us ducked into any one of the shops to make a purchase they were effusive in their thanks. It was cold and rainy and the Sato family provided coffee for all of their visitors. We became quick friends. Sato, like other business owners on the street said that the future of his business and his livelihood will depend on reconstruction and how it proceeds.