As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, following the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan’s north-eastern coast late last week, I travelled up towards Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, with an animal rescue team working for the Japan Earthquake Animal Rescue and Support coalition.
Miyagi was one of the areas hardest hit by the tsunami that struck last Friday, following the massive 9.0 earthquake. It's been estimated that the wave that hit some parts of the region was 10 metres (33 feet) high, and reports suggest that the death toll in this prefecture alone will be as high as 10,000.
We reached the coastal city of Natori around 4:30 pm on Monday evening and knew immediately that it was one of the worst-affected areas. We drove closer to the coast, travelling over the rubble on small roads that had been partially cleared so emergency vehicles could get in. It was very cold and raining, and as night began to set in, the whole place had an eerie, haunting feel. The debris-covered streets, or what was left of them, were deserted apart from an official vehicle here and there that would pass by, red lights flashing. It was so quiet that even the fluttering of a bird’s wings would echo around.
I felt a mixture of incredible sadness, but also guilty looking at all these people’s belongings—their lives—scattered and exposed. Houses had mostly been obliterated, but a few were still left partially standing. With their walls completely ripped away, you could see how the people who had lived there went about their day-to-day lives. One house had a child’s bunk bed still intact, with a special bed for an elderly or sick person next door.
We first passed a two-storey elementary school that was dark and empty, but still standing, before coming to a facility for the elderly. The door into the latter building had been ripped open, and I could see inside the dark hallway where pieces of furniture that had been washed along by the tsunami had been piled high by the rushing water.
We also noticed small yellow stickers had been placed on buildings and cars that were still in one piece. On looking more closely, we realized that the emergency rescue teams had put them there to show which vehicles and structures had been ‘inspected’ for survivors.
I shot this video as we drove away from Natori, as it was getting too dark and hazardous to stay any longer.
A few minutes after the video ends (my camera battery died), we spotted an old man walking up to the evacuation centre in a school with what looked like a foam mattress in a plastic bag, perhaps something he’d recovered from the wreckage.
Even now, millions are left without essentials like electricity and water in north-eastern Japan. There are hundreds of thousands who are without homes and living in shelters that are running short on food, fuel, blankets, medicine. Japan faces a humanitarian crisis of enormous proportions that needs to be remembered after the news teams have moved on to their next story.