earthquake and tsunami aftermath : Minamisanriku


[NOTE: If you would like to help the people of Japan, please visit the Ai Love Japan website to see how we are now providing direct aid to the people in the hardest hit areas of Fukushima, Iwate and Miyagi Prefectures.]

i just returned from Japan working on Project Hibakusha : Hope for Peace and afterwards, my good friend Matsui-san and i spent a few days in the Tohoku region documenting the damage and ongoing relief efforts after the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami devastated the Northeast coast of Japan on March 11, 2011.

we didn't go to as many places as i wanted, but quality has always been more important than quantity. we met some wonderful people with some amazing survival stories.

in Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, the devastation is unbelievable. with the exception of a handful of concrete and steel-framed buildings, anything below 50-feet (15m) above sea level is gone, washed away by the tsunami. the only thing left are the foundations and the debris. for the handful of buildings still standing, there is nothing left inside except broken dreams.
宮城県, 南三陸町の惨状は我が目を疑うものだった。コンクリートや鉄筋の建物がわずかに残っているだけで、海抜15メートル以下にあったものはすべて津波に流されてしまっている。目の前にあるのは建物の基礎とがれきだけ。流されなかった建物も、その内部はがらんどうだ。そう、残っているのは破壊されてしまった夢だけだ…

a quarter-mile (400m) inland, a car sits on top of three story apartment building.

inside, the apartments were gutted by the flood waters.

3/4 of a mile (1.2km) inland, a 30-foot (9m) fishing boat sits amongst a pile of splintered wood and debris in the shadows of houses that were essentially left untouched.

but the real stories are those of the survivors. meet Mr. and Mrs. Suzuki. they are currently staying at the Shizugawa High School evacuation center in Minamisanriku. what you see in this photo is ALL they have and ALL of it was donated. there is nothing left of their house. they literally survived with only the clothes on their backs.

but despite the loss of all of their possessions, Mrs. Suzuki says that they have all that they need. everyone in her house, her husband, daughter, son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren all survived. there are other families who aren't so lucky. they even invited me, my friend and interpreter to join them for dinner in their new cardboard "home".

it is this undying unselfishness and optimism that makes me want to go back and do more for these people. her survival story itself is a miracle.

she was standing outside of her home waiting for her grandchildren to come home from school when the tsunami warning sounded. her husband was at a party on the third floor of one of the few buildings left standing just a stone's throw away from the ocean.

Mrs. Suzuki, with a bad leg, headed to higher ground but couldn't escape the rush of the tsunami floodwaters. miraculously, a house floated underneath her and lifted her above the water level. the house was carried to an embankment where firefighters plucked her safely off the roof of the house.

Mr. Suzuki evacuated to the 4th floor where he and the other party goers also survived. Mr. and Mrs. Suzuki were reunited the following day after Mr. Suzuki walked over an hour through debris towards the high school which sits on a hill that overlooks the town, a walk that normally would have taken ten minutes.

it is for Mr. and Mrs. Suzuki and all of the other people in the devastated areas that i am doing what i can to help the people in Japan. it is for people like them that i hope that we can continue to do positive things for those who have suffered so much loss and yet are grateful for what they have.

if you have ideas on how to help, please feel free to leave a comment. i hope that we can all remember the Suzuki's as we continue to find ways to support the people of Japan.

if you would like to make a donation, please contact me
and send me your email address and i will forward you a list of organizations that i know are doing great things for the people in Japan.

please share this with your friends, family, colleagues and the world. the more people that hear these stories, the more people we can get to help. together, we can make a difference.

issho ni gambarou!!!