March 11 or 3/11, as it is often referred will be forever ingrained in the minds of many who suffered around the Tohoku region. First at the hands of a devastating mega earthquake and then compounded by the deadly rush of violent tsunamis washing away anything lying in its destructive path. We explore how not only individuals but whole communities have moved on from that fateful day.
The Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures were hit hardest by the waves of destruction triggered by the world’s fourth most powerful earthquake. The results were almost 340,000 people being displaced across the Tohoku region, temporary or fabricated housing was the only option for most families.
Fukushima, which already had a serious housing problem, was further complicated by the meltdown of several Nuclear Reactors in the area. This meant more than 160,000 people needed to evacuate to a safe distance to avoid radiation poisoning.
Currently, it is estimated that as part of the rebuilding process all government provided housing will be completed by March 2019, with around 90% of housing already being constructed.
At the time of writing, it has been reported that 73,000 people have been unable to return to their hometowns, and that includes 34,000 from Fukushima alone.
Onagawa, Miyagi Prefecture
Sometimes when we are down, it gives us a chance at fresh beginnings, and the one town carries that exact motto is Onagawa in Miyagi Prefecture. A quaint little coastal town, it too was flattened by the devastating tsunami. Waves of more than 17 metres high were responsible for taking out 70% of the structures here and claimed the lives of almost 10% of the local population.
The rebuilding process is probably a tale that should be the inspiration for many rural cities across the country, both existing and recovering. It should also help to reinvigorate a sense of enthusiasm and help to attract a new generation of ambitious Japanese people with an entrepreneurial flair.
Since the rebirth of the new town hub, the startup scene has blossomed, and with it a community that is ready to take the town forward into the future. To get a better sense of what I am talking about, you may also want to watch a recent video posted by ‘Abroad in Japan’s’, which shows off some of the incredible story’s of people’s contribution to the revival of Onagawa.
The force of the tsunami didn’t just clear out entire towns but also damaged vital infrastructure like Sendai’s Airport, located in Miyagi Prefecture. The landing strip and other connecting roads were drowned in water, the terminals and air traffic control tower were flooded, flight hangars were damaged and debris and cars literally left scattered across the site. The damage and flooding left by the water rendered most of the facility inoperable and swept away any aircraft or ground equipment left in its wake.
As the water resided the massive clean up began, and locals, volunteers from across the country and the military all contributed to clearing the wreckage. Clearly, there was a lot of effort required to clear what remained of the wave of destruction, with cars and other waste obstructing access to the airport terminal. However, the need for relief was dire, and so within a mere 6 days, a lot of the debris had been cleared and the airport was opened to military aid. A month later domestic commercial flights restarted and gradually more and more services were added as capacity increased. Domestic services became fully operative in the summer later that year.
The International airport had suffered a worse fate, and so substantial rebuilds were required to bring it back to any kind of operation. Success was achieved by October 2011, and the International Terminal was 100% back in action by March the following year, as it was serving 90 flights a day.
It is now March 2018, a few days after the anniversary of the worst natural disaster to rock this nation, and we still see there are stories of both hope and struggle. However, with the uplifting accounts of how places like Onagawa and Sendai Airport were rebuilt and have begun to prosper again, we can only hope that this helps to inspire more cities and prefectures to band together. Bringing these towns closer can not only help to build strength in the community but also help them to think and move forward toward a healthy future.