Ofunato, Iwate, Volunteering ~ The Journey

So if you didn’t already know, about 2 months ago Japan was hit by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake which generated a huge Tsunami that effectively destroyed the north east coast of the country and a Nuclear power plant on said coastline. Not to say the nuclear disaster isn’t a bad one. All disasters are disastrous. But it seems to be getting a disproportionately large amount of news coverage, both here and especially abroad.
Lets not forget that there was a tsunami… and it was big.
A group of us were keen to get in and help out from the get go. It took some time for the waters to subside and the professionals to do the Search and Rescue and to just re open roads, supply lines and some basic necessities to parts of the affected areas. Eventually however, Volunteers were called for and a surprisingly large number answered the call this past golden week. 14 ALTs from Gunma were among them.
I was in the 2011-05-02 –> 2011-05-06 group.
We set in the late evening of that Monday, gathered members and supplies and rolled onto the Kita Kanto expressway. The last section of the expressway was fully built so we had a straight shot to the Touhoku expressway where we turned north Toward Fukushima and beyond. It didn’t take too long before we noticed the first signs of damage.
All along the expressway there were these dips and rises with patches of new tar on the ascents and descents. Basically huge tracts of land shifted and essentially cracked up the expressway as they dropped. The fact that they managed to get the entire expressway open so quickly is amazing. I lost count of how many times the road rose and fell by the time we were half way through Fukushima, let alone what came after. The need to shift supplies was the drive behind it no doubt.

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There were still a few patches of expressway that were just cordoned off and unfilled but they were on the shoulder not the actual roads.
We pushed up to the Mizusawa exit in Iwate in an attempt to push across the mountains into Ofunato. We met a sign saying that the roads were closed. Luckily the GPS in the lead car got us an alternative. What a beautiful road. What a pity I was not driving my own car.
We eventually made it to our destination at around 3am. We were greeted by 3 of our party that were staying the full week. They looked more zombie than ALT.
The darkness did a good job of masking the scope of the damage in the area we were staying in, but we could see from the very beginning that things were going to be bad.
We stayed at an Eikaiwa school that our Prefectural Advisor worked at before she joined on with the JET programme. We had electricity, a roof over our heads and flushing toilets. Sure we slept on the floor but It was better than tenting. As we found out later, we were living in the lap of luxury compared to many others in the city.
When the next day dawned. the full reality of the great Touhoku/Pacific Earthquake hit us.
To be Continued…

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