NY1 Reports: Tsunami Survivors Recall Lessons Learned
As NY1 continues its series on the recovery and rebuilding efforts following last year's earthquake in Japan, reporter Dean Meminger speaks with two survivors who saw the devastation first-hand and filed the following report.
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A community leader in Kamaishi City couldn't believe his eyes or what his video camera was capturing as the tsunami poured destruction and grief over his town.
"The Gods that I have put my faith in didn't help at all. Therefore I yelled Buddha and Gods, 'Where are you?'" said Ryoishi Town Leader Hajime Seto.
A year later, he watched from the exact same hill top as the Pacific Ocean literally swallowed much of his town. The nine story high sea wall was supposed to protect the town. But it was no defense. Once the water reached the structure, amazingly it took less than a minute before the wall was underwater itself, with boats and houses floating across it.
To give a sense of how high the water rose, the seawall is 30 feet high. The water went about 90 feet - about three times the wall's height.
Seto says he recorded the video so future generations could learn about tsunamis. However, he didn't know he would be documenting the most powerful earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan's history.
It's an event that left one nurse without a family and close friends. She says she was badly injured after being swiped away by the powerful water.
"Blood was coming from both sides of my head. I think my ribs were broken. It was unbearable," recalled the nurse.
As a survivor, she often visits the spot to pray and leave items for the dead a year after the tsunami. Now just a foundation, it used to be the health clinic the nurse worked in with a doctor and his wife.
"In the middle of January the wife's body was found but was unrecognizable. It was officially identified last month. The doctor was never found," said the nurse.
As people in Kamaishi City try to rebuild their lives, questions remain about rebuilding the towns. Some say homes should be constructed on higher ground and not close to the ocean. But in some areas the water traveled for more than a half a mile.
"We need to do the city planning. But the original owners should keep their land, so the people can go back to where they lived," said Unosumaicho Town Leader Fumio Urayama.
People say past generations have left stone markers to identify areas where houses should not be built because of tsunamis over the centuries. But as the years pass, communities tend to ignore those warning signs and build dangerously closer and closer to the ocean. It's something many survivors hope won't ever happen again.