Dreaming Big in Japan

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Breathtaking Views of Ajishima

So...it's been about a month since my last post. We have been busy, but I have been lazy too. Plus, our internet connection is intermittent at best. I can promise that I have a lot to write about, but I cannot promise that I will get around to writing about any of it!

We found the following pictures in the waiting area shelter at the docks in Ishinomaki City. They are of the main harbor and docks on Ajishima at various times throughout the tsunami back in March. They were taken by a one Mr. Shiraiwa, printed, laminated and hung in the shelter. We took pictures of his pictures and share them with you now:

The entire harbor empties, feeding the tsunami as it hurls itself towards the mainland

The water returns; this is when most of the damage was done

A few days later all looks calm but everything has changed

These scenes are awful in every sense of the word. It must be about twenty feet from the dock landing to the bottom of the seabed. For all that water to be sucked out in an instant and vanish for who-knows-how-long must have been an incredible site to behold. The rushing water returned after laying waste to Ishinomaki, washed ashore and wiped out many houses in the low-lying areas of the island. 

The last picture doesn't hint to any of damage done, but just outside the frame, it looked like a war zone. It still does! With the exception of the debris that washed up on the beach having been collected and burned, nothing else has been cleaned up yet. While this entire region of the country is still reeling from the disaster, and while resources are spread thin, the main reason so little has happened over the past five months is that the whole island sank over a meter into the ocean! 

The tsunami undermined the very structure of the docks and washed away most of the substrate under the concrete pads, causing the main landing to collapse and sink into the harbor. Thankfully, a slightly higher but woefully narrow stretch of the dock survived, which is where the daily ferry docks and unloads its cargo (including all of our weekly grocery deliveries). The limiting factor to the island's recovery is that while the ferry can haul all the necessary supplies and even vehicles and heavy machinery, the dock is too narrow for them to drive off the boat.

There were already a few steamshovels on the island, and they have been put to good use rebuilding one small section of the dock. However, we learned today that they ran out of rocks to fill in under the concrete slabs. They have built a meter-thick concrete retaining wall that will get back filled with more concrete to form a new, higher dock. It will be wide enough to offload everything we need. But we need more rocks that require a wider landing to unload but the landing cannot be finished until we have more rocks...

I am sure they will figure it out eventually. In the meantime, some folks keep cleaning up the beach as little bits of debris wash up. I tried to pitch in with the cleanup operations, but I was not allowed to. As part of the recovery package paid for by the government, members of the local fisherman's union who lost their boats and their livelihoods get about a hundred dollars a day for their efforts. As a non-member and non-fisheatingman all I can really do is glean the few choice bits of debris that I fancy when no one is looking. They will just burn it anyway if I don't!

One good stroke of luck came two weeks ago when the repair crews were able to reconnect the underwater power lines ahead of schedule. We were operating on gasoline-powered generators for months. Now we have heavily chlorinated drinking water on tap and all the (very likely nuclear) energy we can waste. Things are finally getting back to normal!

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