Monday, May 06, 2013

Onagawa part 2, a guided tour. April 10th 2013

I was incredibly lucky and also very grateful that Mayumi and her husband were staying in Onagawa at the time of my visit. 
After being picked up from my train and taken to my hotel to check in we had a guided tour of the town as it is now , visiting some of the important reconstruction sites, new developments and other places associated with the disaster. The first picture which was emailed to me by Mayumi shows us standing with Takuma Endou from the tourist association who kindly gave up his time to drive us on the tour. I really must thank them both as without them I would have felt very lost amongst all the rubble and mechanical diggers and certainly wouldn't have had access to the places we saw.

For the purpose of guiding visitors from overseas a guide book had been made in the form of a flip chart with large photographs and English text to help explain certain locations.

As always please click on photos to enlarge them and a second time to see the full detail.

The old fish market was one of the few buildings which survived the tsunami so was able to be put back into use quite soon after which was very important to help kickstart commerce in the town. It now needs to be demolished so the land can be raised and is currently substituted by a temporary market seen in the background.

We also visited a brand new freezing and cold storage facility called the Maskar building. This was built and funded by a charity organisation from Qatar and had been designed with the latest tsunami survival techniques. The floor at ground level was built on huge pillars and was designed to allow water to flow under the upper floors if there was another tsunami.

We had a tour of the building, these are the brand new refrigeration storage rooms used for fish storage which would be one of the main industries of this coastal area.

The fish freezers were located on the floor above the fridges  and were at a temperature  minus 30 degrees !! We were invited to stand inside , it was a tad chilly .

From the roof of the building, which had been fitted with emergency stores should people have to evacuate to it in the future, it was possible to see fantastic views of the town . You could get a feel for both the scale of the disaster and the huge reconstruction process going on all around. I'll post more pictures in another entry but for now this shot shows the harbour with both the old and temporary fish markets. 

On the roof 

Later we visited the area where the Onagawa Hospital stands. It is on a hill 16 meters above sea level and was designated a safe evacuation point . Many people fled to this area after the initial earthquake but when the tsunami hit the town it was over 20 meters high and the lower floor of the hospital and the car park etc. were inundated.

This memorial to the victims of the disaster stands near the hospital overlooking the town and sea. It was very moving to see this so early in my visit and I don't think it's possible for someone from the U.K. like myself to fully understand how it is to live with the constant threat of earthquakes and tsunamis.

On the hill above the hospital reached by a long flight of steps is the the town's beautiful little shrine behind which the sun had started to sink in the sky. People had also evacuated here and this was above the tsunami so they were safe.

From the edge of the steps it was possible to look down across the town towards the sea . In the past Mayumi had taken photographs of the town from this viewpoint both before the tsunami and after. The pairing of these images on her blog and in a book of her photographs provide an iconic and shocking demonstration of the power of the waves that struck.
This photograph shows Mayumi holding the guide book with one of her photos taken from this spot .
The hospital buildings can be seen to the left of us and the town and harbour spreading out below them.

This pillar is marked with the point the tsunami reached at the hospital almost filling the ground floor and washing away people and cars that had fled to this area on the hill. It was explained to me that the backwash that passed across here as the waves went out to sea again was equally high and sadly claimed more victims.

On the tour we also visited the site of a graveyard on a hill where a train had washed up from the station below and had been deposited upon the grave stones. A train engine is a very heavy object yet it was grabbed from the station in the valley and flipped up onto this hill. The sun was going down behind the graves in the background of this shot but if you click the photo to enlarge you can get a feeling for the site being away from the sea. 

You can also view some of Mayumi's photographs at her website at this link by clicking on the Day and After gallery. They include a photo of the train sitting on this grave yard.

Towards the end of the tour we visited the towns old baseball stadium. The pitch was now the site of a temporary housing estate. The container sized temporary homes were of a new more comfortable design. In addition we visited an office area inside the old concrete stands of the stadium which provided the most moving experience of the day for me.
When I watch the original documentary about Onagawa in 2011 it also had a feature about recovering peoples photographs from the rubble and mud and the process to clean them and saving them for collection. The idea was amazing to me given the scale of the destruction but made total sense, for people who survived the tsunami but lost their homes , relatives and all their possessions at least some of their memories in the form of photographic prints could be saved. 
I have to say to witness some of these photos still on display over two years later waiting to be collected was an incredibly sad and moving experience that really bought home the human loss of this disaster.
I would like to point out that this isn't a public display it is for relatives to visit to search for memories and I asked permission before taking this picture .

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