In the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami disaster on March 11, 2011, a permanent road to recovery was formed with the help of caring organizations and passionate young Japanese leaders. Part One of our story details the disaster and its immediate aftermath.
The March 11, 2011 earthquake, the largest in the history of Japan, now known as “The Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami," caused more than 15,000 deaths with thousands of people still missing. There was an unprecedented amount of damage from the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster. In a televised news conference, Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan referred to these events as the toughest and most difficult crisis for Japan since World War II.
Tokyo came to a standstill after the five-minute earthquake. Crowds of people were stranded when commuter trains stopped running, and communication became almost impossible. While some were forced to spend the night in offices or hotels, others chose to walk home along the rail tracks, a journey that took them hours to complete. In those first few hours and days, many people outside of the badly affected northeast coastline area did not realize the level of destruction that would be seen in the coming days. The videos and news reports left not only Japan, but also the world, stunned.
Devastation in the North
Heading east from Tome, Japan, the road curves along a hilly road lined with trees and lush greenery. It was a beautiful scene that did not reflect the destruction about to be encounter on the coastline.
Suddenly, signs of debris appeared on the sides of the road, which marked the level to which the water from the tsunami had risen and then retreated. As the valley and the small fishing village of Minamisanriku, which sits at the end of a large bay, came into view, the destruction was overwhelming. The village was completely destroyed by the powerful tsunami waters that forced their way up into the bay and the hills. Piles of debris made it look more like a junkyard than a popular resort village.
The silence and smell was overwhelming walking along the rubble. Cars were piled on each other like Hot Wheels thrown in a child’s toy closet. Steel structures, the skeletons of where buildings once stood, bowed toward the ground with ribbons of metal and fishing nets blowing in the breeze. The power and the fury of the water that created this wreckage lay visible all around. The hills around the area held the stories of the residents who were able to clamor up their steep slopes to safety, and the memory of those who were not so fortunate. This area includes the city of Ishinomaki, south of Minamisanriku, the closest city to the epicenter of the earthquake. The National Police Agency reports that more than 9,000 people perished and close to 3,000 are still missing in this area of Miyagi Prefecture.
-Written by Robert Johnson
-Photography by Robert Johnson
[Originally published in TEAMHorizons, Septermber 2011]Download This Issue of TEAMHorizons