Noilly Prattle: Minami Sanriku

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Minami Sanriku

explosion and fire a Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant
March 11, 2011 [Wikipedia]
        We decided to take a road trip to the deep north of Japan, the island of Hokkaido. We planned on a series of seven stops spaced out more or less evenly before boarding a ferry for Hakodate in Hokkaido. Our route took us through the Tohoku region in the northern part of the main island of Honshu. Many may remember that this area was hit by a massive earthquake and tsunami that destroyed many coastal communities on March 11, 2011, a little over four years ago. The same event also hit the nuclear power plant in Fukushima and caused a major catastrophe and meltdown of several reactors. The plant continues to leak radiation into the soil, groundwater and the Pacific Ocean. The plant is estimated to take some 40 years to cool down enough to close and bury the facility.

tsunami memorial
      One of Japan's famous natural beauty spots is the bay of Matsushima and we had planned to stop off there for one night. But then I remembered that the tsunami devastated town of Minami Sanriku was not far from Matsushima and I suggested staying there instead to see how the town looked after four years. It turned out that there was a hot spring hotel in the town (Minami Sanriku Kanyo Hotel) that had escaped most of the tsunami because of its elevated location. We learned while staying there that the hotel had served as a refugee center for many of the tsunami survivors from Minami Sanriku. There is a memorial room set up in lobby consisting of several white chairs with photographs taken during the crisis. Walking along and looking at the photographs is quite a moving experience. You can also get a very good view of the town from the huge hotel windows on the north end of the lobby. There is no longer a habitable town there, only large mounds of sand where people's homes and businesses used to be. 

what used to be the town of Minami Sanriku

Minami Sanriku Kanyo Hotel - post tsunami [Wikipedia]
sculpture made of debris from
Minami Sanriku tsunami strike

      After checking out of the hotel we drove around in the town. There is a lot of work going on that seems to consist mostly of building up huge sand dunes. There doesn't appear to be any rebuilding of homes of businesses. The only commercial activity we saw was a 7 Eleven convenience store and a makeshift gas station near a couple of the damaged buildings that are still standing. It is hard to imagine any kind of community thriving here for a long time if ever again.   

      I thought it would be interesting to compare some Wikipedia photographs taken during and after the tsunami with a few shots I took while driving around the construction areas. 
remarkable shot of the scene on the left as the
tsunami was surging into the town

Minami Sanriku before March 11,  2011

dazed survivors wandering through the ruins

The roof of this building was a designated safe haven, but it proved insufficiently high. Around ten people managed to cling to life there, but twenty others were swept away. 
the same building is still standing today
another damaged building still standing -
sign says Danger Keep Out

the immediate aftermath of the tsunami wave - said to have been as high as 20 meters (65 ft.)
they seem to be covering everything with mounds of sand

still removing debris after 4 years
trucks and heavy machinery everywhere

       These were the only signs of business activity we saw.

7 Eleven convenience store
Eneos gasoline pump

      And a poignant reminder of the inevitability of life even in the face of natural disasters.

man fishing in a stream that was once
30 ft. underwater - life goes on 

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