News / Asia

Unknown Future for Town Annihilated by Tsunami

The Tozen-ji shrine building is one of the few in town still standing, Natori, Japan, March 21, 2011
The Tozen-ji shrine building is one of the few in town still standing, Natori, Japan, March 21, 2011

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Henry Ridgwell

The rescue of two people from the wreckage of their home nine days after the tsunami struck Japan has given renewed hope that more survivors may be found. But for most families, the desperate search for missing loved ones continues in vain. The devastated town of Natori, close to where the latest survivors were discovered, a community struggles to comprehend the events of March 11.

At the Tozen-ji shrine in the town of Natori, the granite gravestones lie smashed across the ground. The shrine building is one of the few in town still standing. Yukihiro Soga stands amid the ruined gravestones. He has come to collect the bones of his parents.

"It’s not so hard to sift through the soil," he says. "The bone fragments are much lighter than the stones."

It may seem a grim task, but Soga says it is his duty to his parents.

He says nature is more powerful than the human race, but one must live in harmony with nature. He says, although the tsunami caused such huge destruction, he does not feel anger. "I am lucky that my family all survived this," he says. It will be a new start, he says, starting from zero. But he says, he will live with nature, where his roots are, where his parents are.

Like Soga, thousands of people up and down this coastline have felt the full force of nature, and must now start from zero.

A clock hanging from the remains of a house is frozen at 2:47, the moment the tsunami struck.

Natori was on the frontline when the wave smashed into the shoreline. Anyone who had not escaped this flat coastal plain had little chance.

Police in Miyagi prefecture say 15,000 people probably died in this prefecture alone.

On an embankment bordering the Natori River, not far from where Sunday’s rescue took place, lies the body of a teenage boy, a nameless corpse waiting to be collected and taken to the overwhelmed morgue.

At the wreckage of the shrine, Masahiro Kano, is also wandering among the ruins. He wonders whether this community has any future at all.

"Can people live here anymore?" he says. "Do people even want to live here anymore?" He says he thinks it would be better if everyone went to live somewhere else.

With typical Japanese efficiency, the clean up and reconstruction effort is well under way. But even if towns like Natori are rebuilt, doubts remain that many people will want to return to live somewhere so vulnerable to the power of nature.

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