damage, debris, disaster area, journal, temporary housing

ishinomaki and onagawa, june 9

we went to see the situation on onagawa, which is on the northeastern side of the ojika penninsula. onagawa was hit hard, by very tell tsunami waves. even the hospital which was up high on a hill had some water.

several large buildings, 3 or 4 story structures of reinforced concrete, had been tipped over and were laying on their sides. it’s a new kind of unnatural, even after seeing so many cars and boats in places they don’t belong, on roofs and inside buildings, and seeing so many buildings which all their ‘flesh’ ripped away, leaving only the structural steel frame, seeing these buildings that had been tipped over on their side was a weird feeling. you can see the steel reinforcement on the underside of the building, and how it was easily snapped off.

while into onagawa, we randomly ran into F Sensei, another expert disaster researcher—the Japanese disaster world is small indeed. he was there for the reconstruction planning meeting that was happening the next day, and after finishing up the interview/documentation he was doing, very kindly showed us around.
one think that shocked me in onagawa was some public housing buildings, multi-story 5 floors, several miles away from the sea. they were near a small river that fed into the ocean, a winding waterway that barely looked like a river at all. it bent around some hills, and the area didn’t really feel close to the ocean. but. when the tsunami hit, it barreled up this river, impossibly curving, to reach this area far from the sea, with enough power to blast through these apartments as high as the 4th floor. there were 3 buildings lined up in an a row. and the water shot through all 3 of them. it would be unbelievable, except I saw it. conventional wisdom in Japanese disaster prevention is that 3 story reinforced concrete buildings are safe in tsunami. this time they weren’t, and many buildings that were expected to protect the community in disaster (schools, hospitals, other designated evacuation places) proved to not be safe after all.

later we stopped by the park and school up on the hill, which is now being used as a shelter. in the stands by the track, volunteers have been cleaning photographs found in the debris, which hopefully will returned to people who know the people in the pictures. there was also a group of professional locksmiths breaking safes. it’s difficult to reunite this property with it’s rightful owner. a lot of people in Japan keep large amounts of cash in their houses, and a huge amount of this cash was lost in the tsunami.

this large park was one proposed site for new housing construction. while it has the advantage of available land, it would be a big loss for the community as a recreational asset.

we saw some temporary housing that had just recently been constructed. it was actually an example of very pleasant housing, not quite a 1 room efficiency, but well made and very livable (as in, I personally thought, this would be a nice place to live, for me). each unit was meant for a family of 4, and for larger families, it was arranged so that they would have 2 adjacent units. they were accessible as well. in addition, nice new appliances (fridge, washing machine, rice cooker, big tv) were provided, each with a red cross sticker–so it was nice to see some evidence of red cross money being used!

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About liz

from the u.s., recently moved from kobe to sendai, japan, researching community-based housing recovery after disaster.

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