We went to Minamisanriku yesterday. It’s a small town about 40 minutes north of Ishinomaki that has many villages along the sea coast. Upon entering the town, we saw debris filling the stream beds. Only cement slabs remained where houses once stood. When we saw the first cove, everything was gone. You couldn’t tell what was there prior to the tsunami. The only standing structure was a cement building. Even the highway overpass was wiped out, with only the posts remaining. The destruction was worse than I ever imagined. There was still a car on the top of a four-story building. During the disaster, news footage showed people in Minamisanriku standing on top of the hospital, watching the waves come in. We were told that the water level was knee high for people standing on the rooftops of some buildings.
We drove along the coast, stopping at temporary housing sites and makeshift service stations to deliver supplies, such as large trash bins, pails, and shovels. The temp housing areas that we visited looked like containers lined up in five or six rows. Each housing had anywhere from 20 to 24 families. Each unit was about a 20’ x 20’ square with a small kitchen, toilet/shower, a bedroom, and a dining room. The families were so grateful and always offered us drinks.
Our first stop was at a community center for about 15 families. A grandmother told us that her house had been in a small valley upstream of a 50’ tall train station. She estimated that the first wave was 30 meters high as it went over the station and washed her house away. When the water receded, the station was no longer there. One local fisherman (pictured on the left) had five fishing boats and just built a brand new home, which housed three generations. His son had just gotten married a couple of months earlier. Immediately after the earthquake, he took his family straight uphill. He lost everything except for the cars they used to go uphill. He said he has a mortgage, but no house.
At this point, the best we can do in Minamisanriku is provide supplies to the people. In the temp housing, everyone is trying to make life as normal as possible, growing small gardens and even fielding a baseball team so children can continue to play. Meanwhile, in Ishinomaki, Chad and a constant flow of volunteers are continuing to help homeowners get their lives back in order. All of these people are living on the second floor of two-story homes, as the ground floors were totally destroyed. The families from single-story homes are gone and will probably not return.
I am impressed with the people’s resilience. They could tell us their stories, laugh a little and enjoyed the short time we spent with them. They were often the ones to initiate conversation and shared their stories openly. They never asked for more supplies than they needed.