2011.05.03 Tuesday 21:43

Report from Rikuzentakata

 This is the report my friend Minchie Huggler wrote after she visited us. She came all the way from Switzerland with her daughter and she joined my son and other members when they went to the city Rikuzentakata which was most severely destroyed by tsunami in our area.

Chieko Suemori


Dear Donors, Dear Friends
I am so grateful to all of you who donated some money through me, big or small, with your kind and concerned heart for the victims of the Great Northeastern Earthquake.

I came back from Iwate prefecture yesterday with a big shock and sadness seeing the disaster, meeting people who lost their loved ones, their houses and their homeland. As a matter of fact, the impression I had was so heavy  I can hardly write now. To tell you the truth, every time I think of it, I am on the verge of crying. But, instead of my mission to encourage the survivors, I was encouraged by the very survivors, friends, volunteers, neighbors, strangers, and even people from other countries like all of you, who tried to help as much as they can, with all their sincere heart and effort. The message from the local people who worked with me was this: Try to transmit honestly what you have seen here to your friends. So this is what I am trying to do.

My daughter U-chan (Yoshi) and I met Chieko Suemori’s second son and his friend at the Tokyo Station and left for MORIOKA-city in IWATE prefecture at midnight in a bus, because SHINKANSEN (bullet train) has not been revived yet. The bus was full of people who wanted to visit their families and friends in the area. It was a weekend. We arrived MORIOKA station after 7 hours, rented a van and drove to Chieko’s house in HACHIMANTAI. Her beautiful   house was damaged by the earthquake leaving a lot of cracks on walls, pillars and on a chimney. Chieko said it damaged also earthenware and porcelains from shelves. An old antique clock stopped at 2:40 o’clock pm sharp when the earthquake erupted. She lives with her husband and her elder son who are both on wheelchairs since many years, not an easy life to start with. She gave us breakfast and soon we pushed off to MORIOKA Public Hall which accepted help for the „ehon(picture book) project“ immediately after the earthquake and since then, received 1500 carton boxes, each of which contains some 50 books for children from all over Japan. (www.ehonproject.org/iwate)  They had to stop people from further sending books for a while, as there was no more space left in the Public Hall.  Our work was to open all the carton boxes and sort the books according to ages from 0 to 12, choosing fine and worthy books which are in good condition. Not so easy as you think. It was a concentrated work for 2-3 hours. Among the volunteers, there are some story-tellers who can go and read the books for the children. After the work, we delivered our Swiss chocolates to all of the volunteers and later further to the victims. They were so happy to find chocolate bunnies from Sprüngli and Migros Tafel chocolates. They were so tired both physically as well as mentally. They all recovered like Swiss military soldiers on training!
Next day, we left MORIOKA in 3 cars for RIKUZEN-TAKATA city 2-3 hours away to deliver the books. The books are put into 30 plastic boxes divided into 3 cars. My daughter and I sat in a car Mrs. Sakata, wife of the Public Hall Director, drove all the way. RIKUZEN-TAKATA was a city of 30,000  inhabitants from which 2000 people died and many are still missing. When we came into the city along the river KESEN, we recognized already some remnants of destroyed houses and cars floating in the river. We went to meet Mr. Kanno who is one of the surviving directors and works in a provisional municipal office at the moment. The City Hall of RIKUZEN-TAKATA is completely destroyed and 7 staff members died including the mayor. It is impossible to work in this condition but they are so brave. Mr. Kanno drove himself to take us to our destination.
It is so hard to find the way in such chaos, as some part is blocked, some part is covered with water, there was no traffic lights,  we had to go around in detour. It made us realize the total annihilation of the city and it was heart breaking. There is nothing left, it is completely wiped out, what we saw was just mud and remnants of wood, plastic and broken cars.  I send you herewith some photographs which we took. Literally speaking, I was petrified and could not do anything but just sit in the car. Photographs were therefore mostly taken by my daughter.

Mr. Kanno and Mr. Sakata went through telling us horrifying stories what had happened, like: look there, that was our city hall, my friend was surviving at the top floor but the water came up until the ceiling, his head was still sticking out when a helicopter found him. But eventually he did not survive.  The hollow object next to it was our railway station, and the railroad is bent like a melted candy. There you can still see the steel base of our bridge. Under the remnants, you see black mud. TSUNAMI is not just sea-water, it brings sand and mud from the ocean and pushes the broken houses and cars and everything together. There must be still a lot of the dead buried under the mud.

We delivered our books to a kindergarten. The teacher told us stories how she took her small ones in her arms, nudging the bigger ones to go up the hill higher and higher, as they saw the water coming closer. She said it was like running a race with water. They all survived. But at another school  it was disastrous. When the earthquake came, some mothers ran to the school to see their children. People tried to stop them but they did not listen. 20 min. later, the Tsunami came and they all died. And a school bus was taking children back home when the Tsunami hit. Later, they were found dead in the bus in each other’s arms. 

 On the way back, we were caught in a traffic jam because workers were already installing new electric poles along the road.

It was a short trip but mentally a heavy one. The strongest impression for me was how people are basically so good in such a disaster, trying to help anonymously, forgetting themselves and help others, trying to be positive and constructive for the future. However, many problems like leakage of  radioactivity,  too long a period of evacuation, inefficiency of the government to build temporary housing for the victims, unsold vegetables and milk products of the farmers, etc. etc. are not yet solved.

One says Iwate will recover in 5 to 10 years.

Minchie Huggler, Tokyo, April 28, 2011.

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