Volunteering in the Earthquake-Tsunami Area in Japan…

A Day at the Shizugawa High School Evacuation Center in Minamisanriku
Part I

Staying involved and helping each other is an important part of staying genki! Below is the first part of an account by Darrell Miho who volunteered in the earthquake and tsunami-affected area of Minamisanriku, Japan.

Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan – It’s 4:50 in the morning and golden rays of sunshine are already streaming through the glass block windows at the Shizugawa High School Judo Dojo. The sound of rustling blankets can be heard coming from one corner while sounds of snoring emanate from all around. The sliding metal door opens and closes as early risers tend to their morning business.

There is no running water. Six portable toilets are lined up outside the dojo – three for women and three for men. A five gallon (20-liter) plastic jug with a spout and a plastic bowl serve as a temporary sink. Soap, hand sanitizer, paper towels and a wastebasket sit next to the jug of water. Cleanliness is of the utmost importance to prevent the spread of germs and diseases.

At 5:30 a.m., Jun Suzuki is standing outside the entrance of the dojo wearing a pair of burgundy sweat pants and a long-sleeved black t-shirt under his black surfboard aloha shirt. While he takes his morning smoke, two ladies walk by and they greet each other with a softly spoken “Ohayou gozaimasu.” It’s a friendly exchange between fellow evacuees.

The morning is brisk as a new day begins at one of the 41 evacuation centers set up in Minamisanriku after the March 11, magnitude-9.0 earthquake and tsunami struck northeastern Japan and nearly wiped out this small fishing port in the Miyagi Prefecture.

Suzuki is one of 105 residents at the Shizugawa High School Evacuation Center that sits on a hill above the town where his house once stood just over 12 weeks ago. Most of the residents here escaped with only the clothes on their back. Some, like Suzuki, are just lucky to be alive.

At 5:50 a.m., Suzuki walks across the soccer field and down two flights of stairs to the Tokubetsu Yogo Homu Jikein, a special nursing home for the elderly, where he and his parents fled after they saw the tsunami engulfing their hometown. Inside, he walks down a dark, debris littered hallway and leads us into the room where they were trapped by the tsunami floodwaters.

Over two months later, you can still see the brown waterline just below the ceiling indicating just how close they were to drowning. There was only a foot of air space left to breath. He reaches up towards a metal curtain rod and explains how he hoisted himself up to keep his head above the water. “I thought I was going to die,” he said. If the water kept rising for another few minutes, he and his parents probably would have joined the list of over 14,000 people confirmed dead or missing in the Miyagi Prefecture alone.

Suzuki’s story is just one of the many survival stories to be heard from evacuees who now live in 2559 shelters located throughout Japan. While their lives have all changed forever, the residents try to move forward and return back to as much of a normal life as one could possibly have under the circumstances.

The material presented on this site is for informational purposes only and does not necessarily represent the opinions of Keiro Senior HealthCare, The Institute for Healthy Aging at Keiro, or its contributors. Readers should consult appropriate health, legal, or financial professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being.  Full disclaimer


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