The tale of a first day as a volunteer in Ishinomaki…

April 15th, Tokyo

5:15… Akihabara station. Half asleep I meet my friends organizing the trip. We will be trying to help a bit for 2 days in Ishinomaki, Miyagi. We split the helmets between cars, hand over shovels and wheelbarrows and head North, overthere where Nuclear Powerplants and giant waves live on TV.

9:20… nice conversation in the car, too much water, we have a toilet break at the Asaka Service area in the vicinity of Koriyama, the closest point to the Fukushima reactors. My Geiger counter indicates a worrying 1.88 micro Sievert/hr on the parking lot. One of our friends is a bit nervous, it is down to 0.35 inside the building, hardly an issue.

12:00… our GPS shows a peaceful blue area to the right of the screen… the name 石巻  (Ishinomaki) shows up, we’ll be there in a few minutes. The landscape around us is mostly normal. It is hard to tell that a disaster hit the area.

12:05… a few hundreds meters further… we turn right and suddenly enter a different world. Beirut in the 80s… a war zones reveals itself to our shocked eyes and leaves us speechless. On the other side of the bridge a blue boat sits between houses, some buildings lie on their side between huge piles of debris and lines of workers wearing helmets walk along the sides of the streets to some unknown destination. Few people unrelated to the rescue effort are to be seen. We drive slow.

12:10… we finally reach the school ground where work is going to be distributed by the local volunteers. 2 cars are lying in the swimming pool but that sounds almost normal. We are close to the river beds but still 500m away from the shore… we cannot imagine the situation on the sea front. A quick check of the Geiger counter confirms our belief, the level is down to 0.1 micro Sievert/hr, same as Tokyo. We dress, wear our industrial masks, bullet proof safety glasses and start working in the school ground per the indication of our charismatic leader.

15.00… we finish cleaning up the drain system of the school and head for assignment #2. 3 volunteers having arrived from Nagoya after a 14 hours night bus ride decide to join forces with us. We walk through the village once more. Same feeling of desolation, I don’t have the strength to think about the consequences in terms of human lives. A large truck is parked in the garden of a house on the way, resting on a concrete wall, still lifted 1 meter above ground. We will be helping the owners of a large house by the river. Adjacent to the house is a public pavilion used for events. It looks almost normal until you see the cracked concrete base and collapsed flooring. Access is prevented by a strange mix of debris brought from the river just 30m away. We will be clearing the access and removing debris from a storage area that cranes can’t get to.

16:30… we are already 30 mins late but cannot seem to be able to stop working… there is so much that remains to be done. We know our friends are waiting and must start to be worried. We end up leaving a bit later after a warm exchange with the house owners. Going back to our accommodation in Sendai takes 2 hours. We will try to regain some strengths tonight before another day of physical labour.

We are exhausted, a bit depressed by the extend of the work that is left to do, but somehow happy to have contributed a tiny little bit.

One thought on “The tale of a first day as a volunteer in Ishinomaki…”

  1. Just give one weekend of your life to people who lost everything. It takes determination to make the decision to join, but their smile is worth the trip.

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