TSUNAMI SCARS: THE STORY OF SENDAI

A group made up of  senior journalists,  news editors and  heads  of media organizations stand in front of a marble memorial  in a  primary school  at the edge of Sendai City, in the Miyagi Prefecture in Japan.
Carved  into the stone memorial are the words that echo the grief of the loss suffered by the people here  when an  8  meter high  tsunami  destroyed this place killing  over 500 men women and children.

             It is a chilly 8 degrees Celsius  and a steady breeze blows in from the shores of this once bustling residential area.   Members of the group unused to the cold stand shivering  yet are gripped  by the very personal stories being told by the  Japanese guide, Noriko and  her translator from Japan’s national broadcaster, NHK.

“The tsunami sirens did not sound as they should have,” says  Noriko. “The earlier earthquake damaged their mechanism  so there was no warning.

 “My son has never talked about that day. Only after  three years  has he spoken about his experiences.”
            Noriko’s son, Yuya  was 14 at the time of the  2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami and he still bears the emotional and psychological scars of that day.   His friend died  when the tsunami hit.  
In a society that values service  and sacrifice,   many of the children who lived and died  remained true to those values.
Fours years after the tsunami,  Yuya  told of how, his  friend had opted to stay back at home to care for his elderly, wheelchair bound  aunt instead of going to the shops with his friend.  Had he done, he would have lived and his aunt would have died alone.
On March 11, 2011,  a magnitude 9 earthquake, shook  North East  Japan.  The quake unleashed  the  massive  tsunami   that swept nearly everything it is path.
We were then taken to a manmade 6 meter high manmade hill  built in the 1920s by fishermen to  keep a look out on the weather.   Our guilds show the scars on a pine tree. The tsunami buried this hill two meters under when it came.
Everywhere, there are memorials.  Memorials not just for the present but for those who will come in the future.
The resilience of the Japanese  is nothing short of amazing.  Even with the immense grief   and loss that  shattered this once thriving fishing village,  the people are slowly rebuilding their lives.
The part of Sendai hit by the tsunami was home to a large elderly population as is the case in many Japanese cities.    Resettlement has been harder for them.   Noriko explains  that for that reason, whole communities have had to be resettled together   on temporary sites  so that the elderly maintain  the close  knit  relationships  that existed before the tsunami.
The Japanese Government has funded the reconstruction of  tsunami stricken site.  An additional four meters of earth is being  put on  the vast landscape.  Only by   2020 will the land will finally be ready for resettlement.
“Human beings  want things to go back to normal. So when the earthquake ended,  we  picked up our things and tried to continue doing what we were doing.  That is  when the water came.”
Today,  Noriko and her  people do what they have done for generations in this disaster prone  nation –  they pick up the pieces, learn the lessons   and  live again.
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TURBULENCE IN TURBULENT TIMES: A TALE OF FEAR

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Until about 10 months ago, I suddenly realized I  have  a fear of flying.
I  don’t know if this   is due to the fact that I  am becoming older and wiser  or  because I have  a suppressed fear that has emerged later on in life.  If the latter is the case, I    totally blame my dad  for those childhood episodes when he used to  throw me up into the air  and then catch me in all the craziness of a proud dad trying to heal a scratch or a bruise.
So it happened one day on my way back from  Goroka (I live in Lae,  by the way)  when we  became the unfortunate passengers of   a  dash 8 aircraft   that flew in from  Mt.  Hagen. I won’t mention the airline for obvious reasons.
So the flight began  as usual –  a smooth take off  and then,  after  five minutes,  we hit the clouds.  Not just one but several with, of course, air pockets in between.
So the plane began shaking violently. It must have been  only for a few seconds,  but in that  overly stressed organ housed in my  cranium,  it was an eternity!
What made it worse was that  a guy sitting in the next row, became increasingly fidgety and sweated profusely as the  turbulence shook the plane again and again… and  then… the plane dropped  and as if that wasn’t enough… tilted sideways.
“Lord Jesus!” someone yelled from the front.
            I just groaned and held on to my seat.  I read somewhere  that if you hyperventilate during stressful situations, you feel calmer.  THAT DID NOT WORK!   I was sweating like the guy in the next row.   It’s moments like that  when irrational thoughts take over.   I felt like slapping Mr. Fidgety guy  so he would calm down and hopefully… hopefully, I too would feel calm.
            As quickly as it started, it was over.  And we were into clear skies over Kainantu, then Yonki.   If you’ve  traveled this route, you’ll know  that  this is a relatively short flight of  a little under 20 minutes.  But in turbulence it takes hours.
            So fast forward to March 13th 2015.   We board a Qantas flight  from  Port Moresby to Cairns.  My mind is focused on all that is to be achieved in Japan which is the next leg of our trip.
            At the first hint of turbulence,  Cyclone Pam,  which was then building up off the coast of Vanuatu,  came to mind.   I was trying to think rationally again. Do planes fly into storms  or over them?  The archives in my memory were in disarray.
            Then the pilot said: “Please fasten your seat belts,  weather conditions in Cairns are a bit windy because of a cyclone…”
             “CYCLONE? CYCLONE!?”
            Then we hit turbulence again on our descent.
            Fate was kind enough  to have the company’s CEO placed  beside me in the seat next to me.
            “It’s just clouds, Scott,” he said reassuringly.  And then added:  “Don’t worry, I am with you. If we go down, we will go together.”
            Then we landed in Cairns.