Environment Forum

Disasterology 6: Signs of commerce return to “The Town That Disappeared”

For survivors of Superstorm Sandy in the U.S. Northeast, the Sendai tsunami in Japan and the massive earthquake in Chengdu, China, the scars of disaster are still palpable. I’m part of a group of journalists brought together by the East-West Center in Hawaii to see how the people and environments hit by these catastrophes are faring, one year,  two years and five years later. We began our tour on Sept. 29. Here are the other posts in the series:

As shopping centers go, the Minamisanriku Sun Sun Shopping Village is minor: a fish monger, a beauty parlor, a vegetable stand and a florist, along with a few other stores. The people who run the shops live elsewhere since their homes were destroyed by the 2011 tsunami, and the areas that flooded are still not considered safe for residents to return.

Business is not exactly brisk on a lovely October morning, but the fact that there is business at all is significant. Minamisanriku has become known as “The Town That Disappeared” after the March 3 tsunami swallowed the broad valley where schools, homes, offices and the city’s disaster mitigation building were located.

The fishery, basis of one of the town’s main businesses (the other was tourism) was destroyed, said Shinya Chiba, an official with the local fisheries association. The fish were never contaminated, but of the 1,100 fishing boats that went out before the disaster, only 70 came back. Of those, only 20 were suitable for fish farming in Shizagawa Bay.

“I myself was a victim after the disaster,” Chiba told a group of international journalists, speaking through a translator. “There was no place to live, no food to eat. We couldn’t make any plans for our lives, for our future.”

Disasterology 5: When the high ground isn’t high enough

For survivors of Superstorm Sandy in the U.S. Northeast, the Sendai tsunami in Japan and the massive earthquake in Chengdu, China, the scars of disaster are still palpable. I’m part of a group of journalists brought together by the East-West Center in Hawaii to see how the people and environments hit by these catastrophes are faring, one year,  two years and five years later. We began our tour on Sept. 29. Here are the other posts in the series:

The school children in Minamisanriku knew what to do in case of a tsunami: run as fast as they could up the hill to the Togura middle school, perched more than 40 meters, or 131 feet, above Shizagawa Bay. This wasn’t high enough when the waves rolled in on March 3, 2011.

The waves were 10 meters (32 feet) high at sea, but reached more than 50 meters (164 feet) when they slammed into the land in this part of Japan’s beach-and-mountain fringed east coast. The tsunami created a swirling whirlpool in, around and finally, on top of the school, according to Sachie Shijo, a native of Minamisanriku and a volunteer now with the non-profit group Peace Winds, which is helping the town to recover. The water came from the landward side, as well as from the sea, Shijo said through a translator. It was everywhere.

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