Evacuation center stands in the middle of rubbles, dirt and slime

A Place Where Time and Seasons Don’t Exist

Close to the school gates, a car brought by the tsunami remains abandoned.
April 12th: a month has passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake. After receiving a request for help from the doctors working at Minato Junior High, a school that suffered heavy damage, in the surroundings of Ishinomaki Port, AAR JAPAN entered the area to deliver relief items such as food, clothes and other commodities. One wouldn’t imagine that that school – trapped in the debris, with broken window glasses and a car stuck in the school yard ground – was turned into an evacuation center. Even wearing masks, the smell of something rotten penetrated our noses and throat, together with dust.

Minato Junior High is located approximately 1 km away from the Ishinomaki Port and was one of the few buildings that remained after the tsunami
If the wind blowed, it rolled the dust up in such a way that made almost impossible to keep the eyes open. The sewage system was dysfunctional and the survivors were using a handmade toilet, made up with cartoons. Around 55 people share the space of a classroom, laying blankets over the plastic sheets. There is not enough rooms to divide between different families, therefore, there was no privacy at all.
Without electricity, the hallways remain shadowy, even in the daylight. The only view they could see through the windows was of the debris and the heavy machinery demolishing it. “We can’t feel the time or the seasons in here”, said one of the survivors.
Not to be Left Behind in the Midst of the Recovery Efforts
Even in daylight, the hallway remains dark. “As the sun sets, nothing but the toilet works”, says one of the evacuees.
To have a home to return to, many exhausted evacuees are cleaning their houses, buried by dirt and slime. There was more than 100 people taking refuge in this school, but now, only a few that used to live nearby are here. Since their cars were carried away by the tsunami and the only way to reach their houses is on foot, they decided to remain in that school, even under poor living conditions, so they can reach their homes. Everywhere, efforts to reopen the schools and even fusions between different evacuation centers are being carried out, but there are no plans to reopen Minato Junior High in the near future. How long they should keep living like that? AAR JAPAN is visiting the area from time to time to deliver relief items, but there is no prospect of infrastructure recovery and no clear leadership among the community to give directives to the evacuees on what to do next.

Photo albums and commendation certificates covered in mud. The tsunami took away even the memories.

After living so long in the evacuation centers, the survivors were too physical and mentally exhausted to be cheered up by the delivery of essentials and the soup kitchens organized by the military and even the courtesy visits of some artists. On the other hand, I remember hearing one of the evacuees commenting “It’s been so long since I last saw milk!”, as we delivered it.

Support from all over the world is arriving to the areas affected by the tsunami, and recovery activities have already started. Nevertheless, evacuation centers like this one, under poor living conditions and that is almost forgotten on what concerns the delivery of basic supplies, is a reality. AAR JAPAN is doing its best in order to carry out continuous activities that leave no one out of the relief activities.

Michitaka KOBAYASHI (Tokyo Headquarters)
Joined AAR JAPAN in 2010, after accumulating experience in newspaper and publicity companies. Has participated in emergency relief operations in Sri Lanka in 2011.
Was involved in sales, editing, and advertising work in newspaper and advertising companies.
(born in Tokyo, 34 years old)