Clearing the rubble but not the sorrow
By Kim Kyung-hoon
In 2004 I was in Indonesia’s Banda Aceh covering the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster which killed over 230,000 people in several south Asian countries. I met a tired-looking man tackling huge piles of rubble created by the tsunami in a brave effort to clean it up. He had only a shovel to use on the debris stretching on all sides as far as the eye could see. He stopped a moment and bemoaned to me that it would take more than several years to clear the rubble in his country. He also added that a rich country like Japan could clear it quickly with giant heavy construction equipment if a similar disaster happened in Japan. When I left Banda Aceh after my one-month stay there, the scenery going from the Reuters temporary base to the airport was almost the same as what I had seen on my first day there, and dead bodies still lay on the streets.
Last weekend, I traveled to Japan’s tsunami–destroyed towns again with my colleague to cover Japan’s traditional festival obon, when families welcome back the spirits of the dead.
It was five months after they had been struck by the March 11 magnitude 9.0 quake and huge tsunami. I could see that the Indonesian man’s insight was correct.
The piles of mud and rubble that had heavily covering roads only five months ago had been cleared and many of the destroyed buildings had been totally dismantled, even though construction equipment pushed the rubble into new huge mountains of debris in several places in each town, and destroyed towns have become home to crows.
Even though it looked bleak and desolate, much of the remnants of disaster have been removed. To make a combination picture of before and after the reconstruction work, I stored some pictures taken right after March 11 in my iPhone before I left from Tokyo.
(View this image in high-resolution here)
In some places, it was easy to spot locations where the old photos had been taken five months ago, but in others it was very difficult to find the same locations. Because, for instance, a building which had provided high angles in the earlier pictures had already been dismantled, or other landscape reference points had changed.
On this trip, I had another project: to record the impressions of the tsunami-struck area by my colleague reporter Yoko in order to produce a multimedia piece reflecting her views and feelings which I share. We met many people in four different cities over three days, and we could feel that the residents in the tsunami-hit area were still struggling to rebuild lives although many of them are moving on.
One woman we interviewed said it was difficult to accept her family’s death because it happened all of a sudden, but a man who Yoko interviewed said sorrow is an emotion that people should not hang on to forever, as many survivors are doing who are trying to overcome their losses.
It was clear that coping with their sorrow and mental scars will take more time than clearing the tsunami rubble, even though we can see the signs of recovery.