Posted by: thebluemusicblog | July 5, 2013

JAPAN 3 – TSUNAMI MARCH 11, 2011, A SAD TALE

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Danidjan HIROJAMA is a very nice and friendly YMCA secretary in Sendai YMCA. On March 11, 2011, when the earthquake happened and when the Tsunami hit one hour after the earthquake, Danidjan was working at the YMCA. He was living close to the coast, and he immediately took out to search for his wife and son of three years. It was chaotic situations on all the roads and it was snowing heavily. No use to try the car, so Danidjan grabbed his bicycle and struggled through the snow.He found nobody at home, so he continued to the school, where his wife was working, and there he found both of them safe and sound!

We met a young sports instructor in Sendai YMCA. His family lived 70 km away, and he also took his bicycle and set out through snow and storm and came down to the coastal area. His family was nowhere to be found. All were gone.

YMCA in Sendai was a safe  place and received a lot of refugees. One of the restaurant owners in the city sent his food over, and got other restaurants to do the same, so soon the YMCA was known for its excellent food. I met this restaurant owner, and we had a good meal in his place.

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MARCH 25, 2011.

This is two weeks after the Tsunami hit, and below the same bridge today, two years after. In all this chaos electricity, radio and TV were out, and no information could be heard many places. One woman from the local authorities took responsibility and ran up and down apartment buildings and got people to get out and to assemble in safe rescue halls. In this way she saved a lot of lives, but she was taken by the wave  herself and died.

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Today, the same bridge, June 2013.

When the emergency alarm came on radio and TV after the earthquake, the messages were not overly dramatic. The first warning said that there would be a Tsunami of 50 cm – 1 m height. Next warning said 5 m, then 7m. The highest wave hit on more than 40 m height. Many people followed the warnings and went up to hills and high places to wait. When nothing happened, after 40-50 minutes a lot of people decided to go home and check their homes. Then the wave hit merciless and all was chaos. Gas tubes opened up and petrol storages took fire, so in addition to earthquake and Tsunami there were explosions and fires.


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Tona Junior High  School was full of children and teachers. The earthquake came at 2.46 p.m. At that time the youngest pupils had already gone home. Most of them were taken by the wave. At 3.48 the Tsunami hit, and all the pupils and teachers were assembled on the roof, where you can see the fences. They were safe.

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From the ground floor, where we can see the enormous and brutal force of the Tsunami wave.

IMG_2295This is from the next floor. just above the wave. The school was preparing for graduation day the next day, and the blackboard is full of positive greetings and good wishes for successful lives from the school kids  to one another.

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On the roof of the school building all the children were safe. Those who had left to go home, were never seen again. From this roof the children got to see traumatic views of neighbors, children and adults, perishing in the terrible wave.

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The school clock stopped when the Tsunami wave hit, exactly 3.48 p.m. on March 11, 2011. The earthquake had hit one hour before, exactly 2.46 p.m. and lasted several minutes. Many people ran to higher places, but after 30-40 minutes of waiting, the tragic story repeated itself also here. People did no longer believe there would be a Tsunami, and many went home to secure their things and look for relatives. Then the wave hit and took them all. More than 20 000 people perished in the water that day in Japan.

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Minutes after the Tsunamin had hit,  then it returned and hit again on its way back. This is close to that school from the photos above.

IMG_2309This is from a gymnastics hall in another school. Hundreds of children and adults had assembled there after the earthquake. The children climbed to the top of the walls, using their regular gym equipment. Sitting in the windows they saw how the wave filled the hall beneath them and made the gymnastic hall into a terrible, cruel washing machine, sending people and equipment in swirls around the hall until they were all dead. And the children watched.

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We were invited to a centre for temporary living for Tsunami victims, in the middle there was a meeting room and social centre. Here we were received by some of the victims who had lost all their properties and their homes. This lady was taken by the ice cold water and swept away from her home. It was snowing and full winter, and she managed to save her life miraculously by first grabbing a bamboo tree and climbing up until the Tsunami had returned. Unlike many others, she was able to save her life because she decided to struggle back to her house to look for her old mother, swimming through the ice cold sea.  She found the mother on the second floor, exactly above the water. There she was able to change to dry clothes, if not she would have frozen to death, like many of her neighbors.  She and her mother were rescued and the whole family was now living together in two small rooms. They expected to be back in a new home in October this year, she said.

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New friends in temporary housing after the Tsunami. Three ladies, who could not stop praising Danidjan HIROJAMA and the Sendai YMCA for all the help and assistance, first in the days of turmoil and danger, then continuously during the two years following the Tsunami.

IMG_2320To the right the mother, who was rescued from the second floor of her home. Now they live 7 people in two rooms. Still they shared their food with us and told us the stories of their lives, for ever changed by the big wave.

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This is Tokyo YMCA’s contribution to the follow up after the Tsunami. Between Ingunn and me you see our guide through the Tsunami hit areas, Goshi ITO. He is the responsible YMCA secretary sent from Tokyo YMCA to help the victims. A great man, and very well prepared to show us around with maps and photo documentaries from the disaster.

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 Here they are running an assistance centre and hosted a number of volunteers from other parts of Japan, who came to help. Just after the Tsunami the coastal area was full of NGOs and all kind of assistance. Now most of them are gone. Typically the YMCA comes and stays, and never leaves,  and there are no plans to stop the assistance. The needs are huge.

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Onagawa was completely washed away by the wave. Here the Tsunami reached the terrible height of more than 40 metres. Of a population of 10 000 more than 900 died. The harbor in Onagawa used to be a busy fishing port, and now everything is destroyed. A huge building is lying  on the side, a gruesome memorial of the killer wave and its tremendous force. 200 families are living in temporary housing on the baseball stadium.

IMG_2343This house was turned sideways by the wave, more than 40 metres high just when it hit here.

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This is just outside the main entrance of the hospital. The tsunami wave hit above my head all the way to the red line.IMG_2347The Tsunami wave hit with brutal force and was measured to 41,95 m above sea level. It killed all the people on  the ground floor of the hospital.

IMG_2350A prosperous little city totally washed away. Now they are transporting sand and lifting the ground 6 m up and are ready to rebuild the town. In this city 9 % of the population was killed.

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The Angel of Hope. Okawa Elementary School. This is probably the saddest place I have ever visited. Okawa lies 4 km away from the coast, but there is a long and narrow river leading up to the town. Nobody expected any disaster. They felt safe because they were far away from the sea. On the photo below you see the Okawa Elementary School at the front of the photo. March 11 there were 78 out of the total 108 children and 13 teachers in the school. To be on the safe side, one of the female teachers took all the pupils up on a hill 5 m above, that was supposed to be more than safe enough. The Tsunami wave came up the river, built itself up, higher and higher and got a terrible speed in  the narrow valley. When it hit Okawa, it was 24.4 m high. 74 of the 78 children and 10 of the 13 teachers all died in the merciless and forceful, massive water-wall. When the wave came back, it was going faster and had more strength, and twisted solid constructions and left a nightmare, the school was completely empty, and no building was left in the village. No single building. This empty field behind the school is still unstable and dangerous area, there are still numerous earthquakes there, and nobody are allowed to move back.

IMG_2362This Is Okawa before the Tsunami, the Elementary School in the foreground. Look at bridge between the two parts of the school building and look at the village behind the school. This was 4 km away from the coast. The Tsunami came up the river to the left.

IMG_2367This is the same bridge today. See that the bridge is turned the opposite way. The Tsunami wave came up from behind and was in fact much stronger when it came back and hit for the second time and twisted the whole construction the “wrong” way.

IMG_2368The schoolyard. We were praying together in front of this destruction. We were praying for the children and their teachers and their parents and for a whole community killed by the wave. It was horrific. When I looked into the school and saw these few school tables, i had no words for what I was feeling. Utterly loneliness and bleak hopelessness was reflected from the dark shadows.

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Below you see again Okawa as a small and safe local community with the school as a natural centre.

IMG_2373Okawa before the Tsunami, see the Elementary School at the front.

IMG_2374Okawa after the Tsunami. Incredible, not a building left behind the school.

IMG_2370Once a playground for happy children.

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On this wall in the schoolyard there is a poem written by the famous writer Kenji Miyazawa. One of his most famous poems is called “Not Loosing to the Rain” and he wrote it shortly before his death in 1921, 37 years old. He was a Buddhist, and lived and wrote to improve the lives of children and give them hope, especially  for the poor farmers. He is still very popular in Japan. The poem above goes like this: “If happiness of all does not exist, the happiness of one is not valid.” To the right of the poem you will see an illustration from one of Miyazawa’s most famous books: “A Night on the Milky Way Railroad”.

IMG_2384Memorial at the main entrance to the School.

IMG_2365Huge construction work to build defense walls. Behind this new wall is the river which led the Tsunami straight on to the village and the school. The river was higher than the school.

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An endless stream of big lorries transporting sand. Two years after the Tsunami there are huge construction works going on all along the coast. The salty water has destroyed rice fields and agricultural land, and now most of this polluted soil has been taken away and exchanged with new and fresh soil. But still we saw many examples of the ocean ruling where there used to be rice fields.

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This is the North East  coast where we were traveling extensively to visit the worst hit areas by the Tsunami March 11, 2011. Wherever I went, I shared with my Japanese YMCA friends how good they have been both sharing the pain and the needs, but also how well they have reported on the assistance and help and how they had used any possible opportunity around the world to say thank you for all the help coming in from YMCAs from all parts of the globe. It was a huge disaster and it hit Japan cruelly, first the earthquake, then the Tsunami and then the accident with the Nuclear Plant. Traveling in the Tsunami hit areas was an experience I will never forget, those days were moving and heart breaking and terrible. To see the evidence of the good work of the Japanese YMCA was very, very encouraging. But the most moving and inspirational  experience was to witness the strong spirit of the survivors and their love to their home area and their courageous willingness and almost stubborn dedication to rebuild their homes and reestablish their communities.

I bow my head in prayer for the victims and their families and for the loss of the Japanese nation.


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