Friday, April 8, 2011

Onagawa Disaster Scene

Onogawa, Japan: This town is located just at the northern edge of Miyagi Prefecture. The name Onagawa means "Female/Feminine River." Here in this view was once a neighborhood. It was home to many people. It was where families lived and children grew up. Then with the rage of a tsunami, it was broken and swept to pieces. Here you can see foundations, battered houses, crushed cars, and even a train that was ripped apart and moved up a stairway of a cemetery. The rail car smashed family grave sites and rested just at the top of the hill. What you are seeing is where many people lost their lives. It is where the lives of children was changed forever. What you are seeing is the aftermath of unimaginable devastation which is as of now continuing to do damage.  The punishment here has been relentless. The vantage point from which I shot this too is tragic as it was taken from Onagawa Elementary School. When the earth quake struck in the mid-afternoon the children in the school were sent from classes to the safety in the clear and open spaces of the sports field. Since it was located atop a hill, the area was dedicated as a safety zone. The children stood outside in shock from the quake that lasted over 5 minutes. When the rumbling and shaking eventually stops there's usually a lull of silence. A routine of roll calls and quick building inspections will likely constitute being led back to class. On this day, it was different. Although the quakes shook and rattled the town; most of the structures and buildings remained intact and had survived with little damage. Usually after earthquakes, people feel relived, get over the initial scare, and continue with what they had been doing before the interruptions.. Not today, today following the shakes tsunami warnings blared on the public announcement system. With it followed voice messages giving stern warnings and encouraging locals to head to safety. The tide receded at the seaside and was pulled into the bulging sea.  Then a wall of water and white capped breakers was seen heading into shore. Soon it crashed and continued as a wash of cold dark sea cascading over the sea barriers. The wave moved and crushed everything it its path and formed wall of debris. Much like e a juggernaut; it destroyed everything in its path. When the tsunami came, it pushed a path of destruction with it. Then it pulled back to sea pulling a path of destruction with it as well. Then it came back to do more of the same. Reports indicated that it came and left 3 times. Each time it brutalized this area. As everything in this world was being destroyed the children stood and watched from the hilltop. Everything they knew as family and home was taken right in front of  them. Most if not all here had lost their mothers and fathers. As of now due to the massive scale of this disaster, the children here are still kept at the school due to limited resources in logistics, support, and caretakers. Although the tsunami withdrew back to the sea a month ago, it is still causing great pain and harm to this place. Because of this what you see in this view is not an aftermath.
Onagawa Disaster Area

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Force of Nature

The devastation is beyond words. 

On the Tohoku Expressway

We left Tokyo early in the morning. The roads were clear with no major delays. Our vehicles had official documents indicating that we were delivering aid to Tohoku. This was greeted with warm receptions from toll booth operators as they allowed us to pass through with positive affirmation. Once we reached the areas closer to the reactors. All vehicles were instructed to circulate their heat/air-condition systems. We also had to wear 3M N95 rated dust masks. These were the types used in industrial settings and were precautionary. We heard no news about the reactor during the trip. We stopped at every rest stop to make sure all vehicles had full tanks of gas. Fortunately the route up was well supplied. Along the way the lanes were had many Japan Defense Force vehicles/personnel delivering support and aid. Very much of the journey looked was full relief convoys. At a few rest stops I did see families gathered dressed in black for funerals. Overall the drive was quiet and uneventful. Very little damage was visible from the highway. If it were not for the current situation the drive up would have been a beautiful one. We reached the outskirts of Sendai at nightfall.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Ready to Go

Last Day Before the Trip:
I'm packed and ready to go. Next stop Tohoku (north eastern Japan) area. I've packed clothing, outdoor gear, clothing, meals for 3 days, liquids, etc... I look forward to this trip as I feel that finally I'm doing something about this situation. I heard from those who just returned that it will be a difficult trip. The devastation is unimaginable and too many people are suffering. I've also signed up for another trip in 2 weeks. Well, I'll write more when I can.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Message

Woke up this morning to a very welcoming Email. My close friend Joel who took this photo sent the following:


This photo is from a fence at Woodson High School in Fairfax.  The students usually use the cups and fence to spell out happy birthday messages to each other.
Shortly after the earthquake/tsunami I noticed they had crafted a Japaneese flag.

Thank you Woodson High School

You never really know how much you want something until it's taken away

Two Days Before We go:
The phone rang early this morning and a very authoritative voice spoke. The coordinator called and said that I would not be able to go due to transportation issues. It was quite disappointing to hear. I immediately asked to be slated for the trip next week. She said, she'd do her best. Then I hastily began calling and contacting other people and other groups. An hour an a half later; I got a call back from the same lady. "You can go, you will go..." I could not thank her enough. You never really know how much you want something until it's taken away, then how grateful you are when it comes back. So in continuation of the plans, I went to work and sorted out the details for my time off. Time drags on when you are in anticipation. Meetings, customer calls, setting up a technical briefing next week, and getting by with the day. I had told a few colleagues who were very moved. In the evening I traveled to a train station at the edge of Tokyo called Shinagawa to pick up my MRE's (Meals Ready to Eat) and other gear from a friend. We met, had a brief dinner at the station, then I loaded up my backpack with what he brought and headed back home. Everything is almost ready to go. So far so good, I don't want to answer my phone for anyone until I'm in the vehicle heading out of  Tokyo early Wednesday morning. Now that the trip for me is still a go.  Here's a brief summary of the plan; at each of these places we will be dropping off supplies and providing assistance where needed. What was interesting is that during research; I found that Google Earth has included many images on their maps which contain satellite and aerial views of the destruction.

Tohoku Region: Ishinomaki and surrounding areas
We'll drive north from Tokyo along the Tohoku Expressway. At certain points we will pass near the Fukushima Reactor exclusion zone. Then we'll stop at to the outskirts of the City of Sendai to rest as it's a 9 hour drive. Here we will camp or stay at an inn that's been shut down. The next day we'll go to Ishinomaki; a coastal town that was hit hard by both the earthquake and the tsunami.
After Ishinomaki we will head to the north east to a small town of Onagawa.
Onogawa was completely devastated by the tsunami and in essence completely wiped out. One of the reason is that this coastal town is nestled in a very narrow and flat valley that stretches far inland. When the tsunami hit, the water was funneled through the low lined valley where the residents lived. The wave and wall of debris plowed and crushed everything in its path for miles inland. Onagawa was one of the hardest hit places in the disaster; the death toll here is astounding. I was told that the entire drive along the coast will be shocking. The Japanese police and military are still searching for bodies. We've been told to prepare ourselves.

Well as it's getting late and I'm in need of sleep, I will leave my keyboard. The day started with highs and lows. But at day's end everything is back on track. I welcome the challenge ahead as I feel it's the first time since the earthquake I'm doing something other than being an innocent bystander and or an observer...

Monday, April 4, 2011

Going!!!! Postponed changed

 UPDATE: Got a call from the coordinator again!!! I'm going!!!

Got a call from the coordinator of the trip north, transportation issues have removed a few people off the list. I being one of them. Will look for another slot...

"Nothing can go wrong if you are doing something right..."

Three Weeks and Three Days: I walked past a small office today and through a window noticed a stack of  things destined for the Tohoku area. This photo has boxes with stickers which read "がんばって東北" which implies "Be Strong Tohoku." Nearly every company or business here in Tokyo is now actively collecting and or contributing to relief projects. It's good and I'm happy I too am a part of it. A few family members and close friends sent me moving messages expressing worries and concern. All of them know however, that once I set my mind onto something it's impossible to change my course. Once I signed my name on the list to go, it's the point of no return. A good remedy for worry is preparedness. I spent most of my day arranging my equipment. I purchased a new backpack as my old one has seen too much wear and tear through my travels. I then took my expedition gear out of my storage room and started staging them for the trip.
  • Camel Back for water, water purification pills
  • Down Jacket/Shell
  • Rugged boots, 
  • Expedition pants, shirts, and changes of clothing
  • Wool; sweaters, socks,  hat, extreme environment thermal under garments, gloves
  • Knife, Leatherman, Utensils, Compass, Whistle
  • Flashlight, Headlamp
  • First Aid Kit, Masks, Toiletries
  • Sleeping Bag & Mat
  • Rain Gear
Then there's the matter of nourishment. A person should consume about 2,200 calories per day and about 2 liters of water. All of which during the trip has to be carried along with me. Water and fluids were purchased at COSTCO. (Yes we have them in Japan now) As for meals I contacted a good friend who lives near Yokosuka Navy Base who sourced military MRE's. These are "Meals Ready to Eat" and provide in each packet nearly enough nutrition required per day consisting of about 1250 calories (13% protein, 36% fat, and 51%) The important aspect about being self sufficient is that you don't become a burden to others. This lessens the worry for the basic essentials and allows more focus on the task at hand. On this trip we will be distributing supplies and likely going from shelter to shelter. While making the list and sorting out my daily requirements I had to stop and think about how difficult it must be for the people surviving in Tohoku. It's April but still very cold here. They barely have access to any of the basic requirements needed to sustain themselves. Right now they are only surviving at a bare minimal level. Now more than ever, help needs to get there faster. Well, as for today's Blog entry, my tone was more on the practical side. I'm not afraid, I'm not worried, and I have full faith. This I believe; "Nothing can go wrong if you are doing something right..."

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Wake Up and Go into a Real Nightmare

Three Weeks and Two Days: "Prepare yourself and make sure your mind is strong, it will not be easy, there will be places and sights that will shock you.., it is not for the weak of mind." These were the things the relief mission organizer noted again and again. "If you can not handle the difficulties you can leave now." Our group collected in a small room for a briefing which readied the team for the next excursion up to the disaster areas. We opened with a prayer, then the organizers warned us of the images which will be shown and the visuals they will describe. We sat quietly as they projected photographs taken by the team that just returned from the Tohoku area. These images were candid, simple and blunt. The carnage was not limited to just a few areas but essentially the entire coastline. For a large part of the drive towns and places along the seaside were completely devestated by the tsunami. One shot which stood out was of an Junior High School. The building was ripped wide open, windows smashed, walls crumbled, and debris as far as the eye could see. We were told that all the children and teachers in the school perished and that their bodies had not yet been recovered. So somewhere in the field of view under the debris they were still there. Again and a again similar images where presented. We were told that death and remains will not be far from any place we go. The lady speaking nearly cried as she described seeing only a human hand on the ground. Then there are the survivors, many of whom are suffering deeply physically and mentally. The ones that lost their homes are at shelters which provide barely enough sustain them. The ones whose homes are still intact, although have roofs over their heads have nothing else. As they are a part of a shelter, no food or support was provided for them. They live amid the wreckage with no electricity, no water, no gas, and nowhere to buy food. Some of these folks wander the streets looking for help. They may walk for hours and hours just to see if a shelter or aid station could give them some relief. The last team set up a makeshift soup kitchen in a parking lot. They prepared about 3,000 meals. It took all day and while doing so, lines formed and people stood patietly for hours from morning to noon just to get a bowl of miso soup. Then once they were done with the lunch serving of one bowl. They went back in line to wait for 3 to 4 more hours for the evening meal of macaroni chicken soup. Some asked if they could eat the food uncooked as they were so hungry and had not eaten for 4 or 5 days. Many in line had been wearing the same clothing from March 11th; the day of the earthquake. These sights and similar stories highlighted the reality of what we will expect. There will be people in a lot of pain. This is all a reality that can be easily overlooked from the safety and security or our comfort zones. But it's time to wake up and help others get through this nightmare. I'll cut short the writing tonight as it's been a long day. I've got a lot to do in order to ready myself physically, mentally, and spiritually. Reality can be cold, it can be looming, and although it can seem comfortably out of reach; it's never that distant...