One of the things I loved most about volunteering was listening to the stories people told. My Japanese was more than a little rusty after six-ish years of disuse, so it took me a while to get back into conversing. But because I understood better than I could speak, I spent a lot of time listening. Using context clues, body language, and watching other peoples’ responses, I could even often glean most of what speakers of regional dialects and elderly people were saying– which is always a challenge.
Most of the stories we heard were terribly, terribly sad. Beyond the destruction in its strange half slate-wiped-clean state, the stories were what weighed heavy on my heart. No matter how quickly the debris is cleared, it will be a long time before these people are healed.
This post has a lot of stories to go along with pictures, and I’ve paired each snippet with a corresponding photo as a caption. I’ll leave it at that and let the pictures and captions do the rest of the talking. This is the last of my tsunami photos… I’ll be sharing a couple from my second hometown, Tokyo, after this, and an engagement session I photographed with an ex-pat Seattlite couple there. If these photos or the stories therein touched you, please share this post, and the photos in Part One.
The center of the damage in Ishinomaki City, where the huge wave blasted through buildings along the coast
An elementary school opposite the coast in Ishinomaki city, which was destroyed by the tsunami and burned by oil that leaked from a tanker swept inland. Students were safely evacuated before the wave hit.
A small marina in Onagawa, downhill from temporary tsunami refugee housing. Many residents depended on the fishing industry for income. Now this marina and others are ruined by water and quake damage and cannot support the industry.
Yuria, 4, talks with a volunteer about what happened on the day of the tsunami. She was at daycare and her parents were at work when the wave came and swept up from the marina to destroy her house.
Little Yuria lives in temporary housing with her parents and grandmother. She doesn’t seem traumatized by the events of the past year, even when we walk by the gravel pit that stands where her house once did.
This elderly woman was swept away when the wave hit Onagawa. She survived by swimming in the frigid waters. Now she lives in temporary housing and is making zorii (right) to sell with the other “aunties” and “grandmas”
A lone corporate building stands where there was once a vibrant community. In this area, the wave was funneled inland by hills, causing it to be up to 60 feet high. This building has windows blown out on the top floor.
A tsunami-damaged TESCO gas station. The hillside was washed away by the wave and the September typhoon, which devastated the already damaged area and fragile soil
Left, the devastation in Oshika whaling town from above and, right, earthquake damage to an unrepaired section of road
Led by a local resident, volunteers walk down a washed out beach to survey the tsunami damage
Looking up from the raised beach at an apartment building wrecked by the wave. The water reached the top of its second story.
A fisherman stands on a sea wall and looks out at the ocean, his friend and his enemy.
Despite having to sort through the wreckage of their own homes and being up to their knees in mud, many people we met were all smiles, glad to meet the day
Washed in from sea, the wreckage of local houses rests above an ocean sea wall in unsorted piles of debris. A volunteer takes in the scene.
Pieces of a roof ripped from a Japanese home and deposited by the March tsunami on the beach amid car parts, clothing, dishes, and other debris
Left, the center pole of the roof of the area’s oldest home (made with traditional joinery) destroyed by the March 2011 tsunami. Right, a soiled tatami mat (traditional flooring) washed up by the wave
A second of damaged coastline is home to debris and flotsam collected as water washed through homes and businesses and back out to sea. Most is too damaged to salvage.
A lone rubber boot, filled with mud and sea water. All of us wore rubber boots and gloves while volunteering, and no matter how careful we were, we ended the day with mud in our shoes and under our nails.
A man hunts for the gravestone of his family dog, near where his home’s foundation remains. He explains that he wanted to find the rock to reassure his daughter that it was still there, and that it is a special type of stone that is only found on a nearby island. Right, a hard hat rests on a foundation wall near his home.
A child’s bike, covered in mud, sits atop a pile of “non burnable” garbage collected from a washed-out area
Looking toward the beach, the remains of a residential area. Only foundations and detritus are left where Japanese homes once stood.
Newly painted fishing floats laid out to dry. We were asked to stencil these floats by a local fisherman in need of help.
Left, fishing floats laid out to dry after stenciling. Right, the remains of incense urns for a home Buddhist altar on the empty site of a bulldozed house.
Toys left by local children in the foundation of a wrecked building near the marina of a Japanese town. Note the newly graded road and reinforced sea wall in the background.
Amid smashed cement and torn-up rebar, a stray cat sits, begging for scraps.
A day’s catch of mackerel sits on the cracked marina near Ishinomaki, Japan
Fishing boats tethered at sunset in a marina near Ishinomaki, Japan
The unsafe local port/marina, cracked by the earthquake and nearly sunk by the tsunami, is scattered with rebar and wreckage and nearly floods at high tide.
A Japanese fire truck and fire station, casualties of the March 2011 tsunami. The fire truck, like a good portion of the tsunami-affected area, is covered in a tangle of fishing nets.
Rebar and smashed cement, along with sections of the old road, rest on part of the sunken pier in a small Japanese town
The sunken pier and ruined foundations of fishing outbuildings, framed by grass.