Part 4 – The Devastation
I arrived into the house that Kinship Circle rented in Sendai. Sendai is a city which has a port that was devastated, also. We were about 40 minutes away from there, and about an hour and a half away from the nuclear power plant.
I met up with my team which consisted of Bonnie Morrison, Incident Commander, Ginny Striewig, both from the US, Lindsay Davidson, Jackie Emard, Canadians, and Kate O’Callaghan, an Irish woman living in Okinawa (the southernmost island of Japan) for some 18 years. All amazing people with different personalities coming together for one common goal!
Most mornings were spent trying to get coordinating and figuring out which team was assigned to which tasks. It was okay with two cars, but after returning our car to JEARS, we were down to one car. With plans changing last minute, trying to find donors, drivers, calling shelters, we were lucky to get out of the house around noon. The teams were divided between those volunteering to go into the radiation zone (Lindsay, Ginny, and myself), and those who were not (Jackie and Kate).
We had one more team member to pick up, Rachel Becknell, who was coming in from a boat into Sendai. She’s an American living and working in Hokkaido, the Northern most island in Japan.
Up to this time, I was the driver. I had all team members reminding me to stay on the left side of the road. But of course, it does take getting used to, so I did have a few little snafu’s. The first where I ran over the curb just HAD to be right in front of our house where the rest of the team just HAD to have happened to be looking out the window at the very same time…of course! After my side mirror was knocked by my getting too close to a side barrier, Rachel couldn’t take it anymore and politely insisted she drive. I was only too happy to let her do the driving. I was then moved to the navigating seat with maps in Japanese. Did I mention I only have a reading capability as that of a second grader in Japanese? I realized when you are in a job that you may not be too confident in, you just have to wing it. And wing it I did! Looking back, my whole trip was flying on wings!
When we drove out to the port to pick Rachel up, we saw our first sight of the devastation. The port area was completely wiped out, but work had been going on and roads were cleared. Cars were tossed like they were just little toys, some still laying as they landed, trucks smashed in, buildings wiped. It was unbelievable. We were still in the city where we would see occasional earthquake damage, but to see the levels of the devastation change so drastically by a different natural calamity was very bizarre. When we got to the Port where she was to arrive, the building was only partially repaired…just enough to have business flowing.
We headed for Minami Soma, an area right outside the 20 km restricted zone. As we got closer to the coast, the landscape changed so drastically. We couldn’t believe our eyes. The devastation showed the sheer force with which the tsunami had so easily and effortlessly taken over the whole coast of Japan. The thought of being faced with such a powerful destructive force was unfathomable…and utterly terrifying. I felt the tears start to stream down my face.
We got off the main road to get a closer look at the devastation. The roads were there, but nothing else. How would anyone know where anything used to be? Everything was flattened. I put on my mask and went out to get a closer look. Amongst the debris on the ground were toys, shoes, house décor, and even a purse. I tried to imagine its owners…how they treasured each and every item. I knew that these items didn’t come from this area…how far were they carried through the waves of the tsunami…swirling through the debris until it landed here?
I found a basket with both sides of the shoes together inside…how did it manage to stay together through a tsunami? I felt guilty having such mundane thoughts going through my head as I stood amongst the debris…so many people and animals lost their lives, their possessions, and this is what I’m wondering about? Or was it a way to lessen the pain? Maybe it was self-preservation to think such mundane thoughts instead of imagining the horrors they felt that day.
Standing there and looking around, I felt shell-shocked. I was in total disbelief. There was nothing I could do but to say a silent prayer.
We noticed a young Japanese woman arrive alone and step outside her car and look around. Was she from here? What was going on through her head? My heart broke for her…she was probably here trying to look for small bits of her life…or her family’s?
We got back in the car to get back to work. The Japanese Army were out in full force trying to clear all the debris…what an overwhelming job that is.
As we drove, one of the things that struck me was you could see exactly where the tsunami ended its destruction. Right next to it would be houses untouched. What went through these people’s heads? And what would go through the minds of those who’s houses were totally lost just because they were merely a few feet closer to the coast?
We saw boats tossed on the land, houses that actually managed to make it through the waves…it was like a dream where nothing really makes sense. It’s hard to tell how far in the tsunami came in…I don’t know where the coast started or ended. Strangely, on the other side would be a town completely intact. Everything was so surreal. We had now seen the results of the two disasters…the earthquake and the tsunami. We got back in the car to drive down closer to the third…the radiation.