Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Legacy of the Great Tohoku Earthquake March 11, 2011 - 4 years later

The Power of the March 11, 2011 tsunami in Ishinomaki, several
days afterwards.
The Horror of March 11, 2011 - Who can forget the riveting video of the huge, special-effects-like wave sweeping into coastal Japan, and cars, people, and entire towns being swept away?  They estimate that upwards of 20,000 people died in the earthquake and tsunami, not to mention entire towns.

A shrine dedicated to those lost.

Stand Up Ishinomaki!  We had a chance to visit the city of Ishinomaki, one of the  hardest-hit on the coast north of Sendai and had a briefing by city officials on their progress to date and plans for the future.  We sat in a briefing room in city hall and heard the numbers and saw the aerial photos and maps, but they are numbing.  There's no real way to grasp the magnitude of this event.  The evidence is everywhere: damaged empty buildings, hundreds of empty lots, buildings standing isolated in the middle of what was once a neighborhood, shrines on empty street corners, and sign exhorting themselves to Stand Up! 

Stand Up!

Stand up and Sing!  Kaori made arrangements for the visit, and we brought a donation to the city that we were told would go to assisting those many residents still homeless.  We have been rehearsing a song that became the anthem in Japan for the tsunami, so Kaori thought it would be appropriate if we sang the song to the city officials after we made the donation.  We stood, and holding the words, we sang the song.  The officials later told us that they were surprised that a group of Americans would make such a gesture and they were touched.  It was difficult singing the song and trying to read the words through the tears.   It's particularly difficult for those of us who live in earthquake country and who are joined at the hip through our seismicity with our Japanese neighbors.

The Greatest Tragedy -- 40 minutes - Perhaps I missed it back in 2011, but we learned from our disaster tour guide (more about that in a minute) that there had been a warning issued to the citizens along the coast and those in Ishinomaki.  40 minutes before the tsunami hit.  All those school children and citizens could have been saved had they gone to higher ground like they had been taught to do over the years.  They didn't take it seriously.  They didn't have to die.

I remember very clearly as that very same wave raced across the ocean toward the Monterey Bay coastline, and the dozens (hundreds) of people who rushed TOWARD the coast to see the wave, depending/gambling on the information that scientists were predicting that the wave wouldn't amount to much. 

Tsunami Tours - they have volunteers who
give tours of the tsunami area to keep the
memory alive.

Learning and Planning - The city of Ishinomaki and all the cities along the coast are working hard to try and see that the tragedy is never repeated.  Japan is riding through time atop volcanoes and nobody knows better the threat and reality of it.  But now, with the tsunami fresh in their minds, they intend to keep that reality alive.  Those blue plaques indicating evacuation routes are fresh and everywhere.  The marks indicating the height of the wave adorn the sides of newly-built buildings. 

But, even in this place where the reality of natural disaster is always present, they have to work at keeping the residents mobilized.  They have to WORK at it.  Barely 4 years have passed and the empty lots stretch for miles, and they still have to exhort the citizens to be prepared. 

We should never forget the Tsunami - We should keep the memories of this event alive not only to honor those who perished -- unnecessarily it would seem -- but to use them to help us be vigilant as we too ride through time on that same seismic roller coaster.

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