Jay's 2nd Tohoku Volunteer Trip 2011
In May,I went on a marathon 72-hr trip up to Tohoku again - this time to Fukushima, as well as Miyagi. We left on a Sunday night at about midnight from Osaka and drove straight thru to Tokyo. In the car with me were my foreign friends - Tony, Carl, Jason and, of course, Alfred. We arrived in Tokyo on Monday morning and were at Narita Airport by about noon to meet the others, Martin, Mike and Heath, and pick up the trucks and the donated goods from Germany. A couple hours there to load and do paperwork, then it was back on the road north to Tohoku. We hadn't slept much in the car and hadn't eaten anything, so we got as far as Shirakawa in southern Fukushima before calling it a day at about 10 Monday night. Tuesday morning we left right away and drove straight up to Fukushima City, then headed east for the coast and our first destination - Minami-Soma town. It took a while.
We drove on narrow twisting country roads - sometimes only one-lane wide - thru beautiful spring countryside and villages...all utterly deserted. It was near the radiation exclusion zone and no-one was around, the roads were deserted with many actually blocked and no traffic, skinny-looking animals, unplanted and untended fields, greenhouses full of weeds. It was eerie and looked like the world maybe one month after Mankind was gone. We had stopped a little before to don masks and clothing we would dispose of afterward and to seal the windows, etc., so we felt secure, but still wanted to get thru it as quickly as possible. By about 3 p.m. we arrived at the coast and Minami-Soma, an area that had been hit by one of the highest tsunami waves.
We went to the city hall and were directed to the nearby aid collection/distribution center. A quick look by officials to see what we had that they could use and we unloaded one of the trucks in quick order - they were happy to get biscuits, summer clothing, hygene goods, baby food and some organic food in jars, about 2.5 tonnes in all. After that, Martin and Mike took the empty truck back to Tokyo and Mr. Tachiya from the city hall took the rest of us to the actual coast for a look at the devastation. We drove down a cleared road thru the heart of what had been a residential neighborhood with hundreds of homes and was now a wasteland - nothing could be seen except for some concrete rubble, smashed tree branches, the odd crushed vehicle, and mud that went on to the horizon. We stopped in a light rain, said some prayers, took some pictures and just basically gawked around feeling lost for words. Mr. Tachiya himself had lost his home in the earthquake and had stayed behind to work in his community when many had left. The town of 70,000 is now home to about 1/2 that number, as many have either been relocated or have left voluntarily. Mind-numbing.
We left Minami-Soma at about 5:00 and continued north to Sendai along the coastal route 6 road. It was jaw-dropping - the entire way, everything on our right between the raised highway and the (new) coast of Miyagi (an area sometimes as wide as 3 kms) was gone, only fields of yet-to-be-cleared debris, piles of broken trees and scores of boats, some scattered as far inland as 2.5 kms from the sea. We arrived at our final destination in eastern Sendai City at about 8 and unloaded our remaining truck in the dark at small collection center run by a group of young volunteers. A man named Ryuhei , who had lost a couple of friends in the disaster, was there and helped get us sorted out as we unloaded the remaining 1.5 tons of goods by hand. They were happy to receive anything we had. The group receives goods and loads them onto small trucks, then drives around to damaged neighborhoods where people still live who couldn't be relocated, doling out whatever they have - sort of like a regular milk-run.
After we unloaded our stuff, he took us to a nearby noodle shop for our first hot meal in two days, then we said goodbye with a promise to bring more soon and drove out of Sendai on the freeway back to Tokyo. We drove all night, arriving into Tokyo to drop off the truck at about 8 a.m. Wednesday, got that sorted and hit the road for Osaka at about 11. We drove thru heavy holiday traffic for the next 12 hrs, finally arriving home a full 24 hrs after leaving Sendai and almost exactly 72 hrs from departure.
Tired, hungry, but happy that we could again do a small thing to help.