Ben Gruber

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My experience covering Japan’s earthquake and tsunami.

April 7, 2011

People have been asking me about my recent coverage of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, wondering what sticks out in my memory. After some reflection, one part of my experience keeps rising to the top – the mountain tunnels.


The Reuters multimedia team was based in the north-east town of Tono, a small mountain town situated above the coastline. Tono had an eerie feeling to it, almost all of the shops and restaurants were closed. But you wouldn’t know the town had been rocked by a massive earthquake. There were no physical signs.

Every morning we would wake up early and pile into cars for the drive down to the coast.

To get from Tono to the coastal areas you need to drive through several massive tunnels, some stretching as long as 5kms. These tunnels would normally be well lit and ventilated but that wasn’t the case any longer. They were pitch black inside and even with the windows shut tight; you couldn’t help but get extremely nauseous from petrol fumes.

In my mind the tunnels were like gateways. When you enter, you leave behind Japan’s picturesque mountain country and drive through a void that seems to never end. When you finally see the light on the other side you are greeted by a scene that can only be described as an apocalyptic nightmare. No matter how many times I made this trip, the scene that awaited me on the other end of the tunnels never ceased to amaze me in the worst way possible.

You have all seen the images. Whole towns washed away and massive ships amid debris where those towns should have been. Thousands of survivors piled into shelters still very much in shock. You ask these kind people how they are coping. What will they do? Nine times out of ten, the answer was “I don’t really know”.

How could they know? How cold anyone be expected to know how they will move forward when their entire world and many of their friends and family were devoured by a massive wall of water?

Kirikiri, Japan

I know one thing. The people of north-eastern Japan will survive this, learn from it, and start again. No amount of political uncertainty or failed nuclear reactors will keep them down for long. I have seen it in their eyes; these are a strong, proud people who will one day make it back to their feet.

I have no doubt that in the future I will make it back to Japan. I will drive the long mountain tunnels. And when I make it to the other side the view will take my breath away. I will see beautiful towns and villages where they should be without having to use my imagination.

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  • About Ben

    "I started with Reuters in Jerusalem as a television producer. In the past 12 years I have had the pleasure of working in Washington D.C., London, and currently New York. My current assignment is the most exciting of my career. I am a video journalist focused on climate change, alternative energy, how communities and industries are meeting environmental challenges, the business of the environment, and cutting edge developments in areas such as nanotechnology and computers and medicine, which provide insight into how we will live in the future."
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