As if to ensure that Japan does not forget about what happened one year ago, the earth has been shaking strongly, and frequently, this last week. Twice I was awakened in the wee hours of the morning by strong tremors. Both times I had been sleeping in my daughter’s bed as she was sick and didn’t want to sleep alone. Startled from sleep I rolled over and covered my sleeping daughter’s body and waited for the shaking to stop.
It’s not like we needed any reminding either. The deaths and disappearances of 19,057 people in a matter of minutes is not something a nation can forget. If the ongoing Fukushima Nuclear debacle doesn’t keep the events of March 11, 2011 in mind, all we have to do is look towards Touhoku and the vast expanses of what were towns. And that is what special television programs have been doing all week as well. I watch them when I can. I don’t watch them if my daughter is with me. Each time she sees footage she asks of it’s happening right now and I have to tell her it is from last year.
One program I watched was about what happened at the Minami Sanriku Disaster Response Center Building. I didn’t know all the details of the situation there that day before seeing the television program but it was one story out of the thousands that affected me strongly early on. I previously wrote about it on this blog and included video of Minami Sanriku, and even wrote about one of the people in the building when the tsunami struck.
“A woman’s voice calmly repeats the same warning. “A tsunami is coming. Everyone must evacuate to higher ground.” I originally thought this was a recording that they played during emergencies, but it turns out it is an actual person, a young woman of 24, who stayed in the city hall to continue giving the evacuation notice. That city hall was completely destroyed. Only the steel frame remained after the tsunami overwhelmed it. They found that young woman’s body just over a week ago. They had to identify it by DNA and also a charm bracelet she wore around her ankle given to her by her husband whom she married only a year earlier.”
After watching television recently I now know her name. It is Miki Endo and I know the circumstances leading up to her disappearance and death and for reasons I don’t know I can’t make myself forget about her despite it affecting me strongly emotionally.
When the earthquake struck at 2:46 the staff assembled at the Disaster Response center located several hundred meters from the waterbreak on the shore of Minami Sanriku Town. Several minutes later data relayed from Tokyo informed of a 6 meter tsunami on its way. Miki Endo got on the public address system and started an evacuation notice.
“A 6 meter tsunami is on the way. Everyone evacuate. Don’t go near the shore.”
She would repeat this warning over and over until around 3 pm when new data showed the tsunami would be over 10 meters. The building the staff were in is a 3 story building with a steel frame that stands about 12 meters tall. She continued with her announcements.
“A 10 meter tsunami is on the way. Everyone evacuate to high ground. Don’t go near the shore.”
On the show I watched they played the recording of her announcement up until the end. I had never heard that part of it before.
“A 10 meter tsunami is on the way. Everyone… Miki, go up. Let’s go. Go up!”
All the people in that building went up on the roof to brace themselves against the wall of water that was just outside the windows. One picture that was shown, and I will never forget, was taken by someone on that roof as the water is approaching. The majority of the people on the roof are huddled around the broadcasting antennae, clinging to it. The background of the shot is water. Just water. Despite knowing that people in that building perished I somehow didn’t comprehend just how high that wave was.
When you watch the videos of the tsunami, most are taken from a higher vantage point and, for me at least, perspective is skewed somewhat. It’s tough to gauge the height of the water as it pours in. When I saw that picture there was no mistaking it. The height of the water was that of a 3 story building. I tried to find that picture to post here but I could not. But I did find this one.
This is the moment the water overwhelmed the building. About 3:24 pm, March 11, 2011. A 12 meter tall building being swamped in 14 meters of water. In this picture you can see the people who survived by clinging to the steel staircase. And you can see the antennae. You cannot see the people who were clinging to the antennae. They’re gone. 42 people were washed off that roof leaving 10 to remain. Somehow 1 of those swept away survived. How horrifying is a situation where we call it a miracle when 1 person survives.
When the water eventually receded the building designated as a disaster response center looked like this.
I saw images of this building last year when the first reports from Touhoku were airing, but this building know holds some more significance for me and for many others as it has become a symbol of Minami Sanriku town. The steel frame kept the building standing where any other building less than 10 meters tall got carried away by the ocean.
Today being Sunday I was out with Gai-Gun Jr. for our weekly adventure. Sunday is the day of the week where I don’t need to be anywhere so we spend it together. We were in our local Ito Yokado at 2:45 pm when an announcement came over the speaker that the 1 year anniversary of the moment of the Great Touhoku Earthquake had arrived. There would be 30 seconds of silence. I was unsure what people here in landlocked Saitama would do at this moment but everyone in the Ito Yokado, including myself, closed their eyes and bowed their heads for a moment of silence for the victims. My daughter asked what we were doing. I asked her if she remembered the big quake. She nodded yes. I then told her it had been a year since then. She said nothing. For her yearly happenings are cool things like birthdays and Christmases. I imagine she wants to know why we try to remember something so horrible.
We never forget things of this scale of horror and Touhoku will be remembered for decades while it seeks to rebuild itself. I, personally, will never forget Minami Sanriku or Miki Endo. I know her face, her voice and the last moments of her life.
I hope Touhoku can get to a place where memories are kindled by these videos and pictures and not by looking at a coastline still rebuilding. I look forward to that day.