Life line

Number of trainees at the evacuation center

At one of Sakura Gakuen’s business partners, people got trapped in flood and couldn’t evacuate. Fortunately, they were all safe escaping to and stayed on the second floor of the company. They were rescued by the Self Defense Force and came to the evacuation center a few days after the earthquake. I was feeling very uneasy until we knew what was happening with them.

We couldn’t just go around. Some areas were even cordoned off by authorities. We could though send some of our trainees back to their family homes from the evacuation center. There were about 30 trainees, probably 40 including the ones from Moshiono Sato. The number went down slowly to about 20 on around the tenth day.

We operated group homes and their residents were with us too. Not all the facilities were damaged by the tsunami but they were cut off from lifeline, and we didn’t have enough staff members to task in different places. We thought it wasn’t a good idea to have our staff scattered in different places. We wouldn’t be able to deal with all the necessities in that situation with limited number of staff members in different places. All the staff was at the evacuation center. Some of them were taking care of the safety of the trainees, users and residents.

On the way to reopening the facility

It took us about four weeks to reopen our facility. We had to clean the floor totally covered with black mud brought by the tsunami and that task itself was very hard.

We asked for help from our parent organization and they sent some of the staff members to help us scoop out the mud and then clean the floor with water. We had managed to make the place usable and we were waiting the lifeline services to resume. It was when that strong aftershock hit on the April 7th.

The electricity had just come back but it was cut again. This time, however, services resumed quite quickly. We decided to wait until all the services had resumed before we reopen our facility.

We decided to resume our operation on April 11 and sent the information to our trainees.

Some of the trainees had telephoned us to ask when we would reopen the facility. Some had even visited us. We apologized to them while clearing the mess. Finally, we were able to restart the facility.

Light of hope

When did you have your lifeline services back?

We got them back late here. We saw repair trucks for electricity nearby but they didn’t come this way for some time. We were so happy when we could turn the lights on. The water service resumed later but we managed with water from the river next to our workshop. We boiled the water from the river. We wanted to clean the hair and faces of our trainees. Some trainees cried and said “I could finally wash my face” when we cleaned their faces. It was impressive to recognize that something we do everyday without appreciating was actually so precious. Warm water was something we really needed.


Anything particularly difficult?

It was very difficult to obtain medications for trainees because hospitals were also damaged. In that chaotic situation, the director and I took turn and went to hospitals everyday carrying our backpack. Another hard thing was to look for the corps of director’s mother and those of our trainees’ family members. We went opening the blue plastic sheet one by one. The images come back to me every time I see blue plastic sheets. We were so anxious and worried about what would happen as we stood on top of the hill and saw the city of Kesennuma on fire. However, we talked among staff members that we shouldn’t show our tears to the trainees and that we had to keep our smiles. Staff members did their best, including the person who lost her husband in the disaster. We experienced discriminations against and misunderstanding toward persons with disabilities, which was yet another hardship. We tried our best in explaining but people didn’t understand. I think that social welfare works are only possible when you have enough emotional capacity. In that sense, it was understandable that in those chaotic situations people didn’t comprehend about disabilities, and I don’t mean to blame them. Still, it was difficult to experience discriminations and misunderstanding just because some people had disabilities. Once we know that people have these sentiment, it makes us difficult to ask them for help. I felt sorry about that situation. Himawari resumed its operation in less than a month from the day of the earthquake. It was the first of all the support centers in the area, I think. The director had said “If there was even only one trainee who needed Himawari and wanted to come, we had to speed up and open the workshop again soon. We might not have electricity or water, but we will be able to manage with our creativity. Let’s make a space for the trainees to gather.”


I can see that Himawari served as a light of hope for the trainees and their families.

That’s right. Some said they could bear the situation because they could rely on Himawari.

Life at your house

How badly affected your house by the tsunami?

It was just below the floor level, not high enough to reach the entrance hall. So, inside the house was not affected. However, the storage was inundated and all the machines were broken.


Was there still water on the following day?

Water seemed to have receded by the following day, but the problem was the mud. I was at the home for the elderly and wondering whether I was going to stay overnight there, but my mother came to pick me up in late afternoon. So, I stayed one night at the cardiovascular hospital, and half day at the home for the elderly. We had hard time finding streets we could drive back to our house. Many of them were blocked. We saw some corps wrapped in blue plastic sheets. There was a river just on the side of our house and the water stopped there without affecting our house.


So I can see that the damages caused were very different from this side of the river and the other side, though there wasn’t much distance between them.

That’s right. It was totally different. Many people actually deceased on the other side. We were in the same Kadonowaki district, but the situation differed tremendously on different sides of the river.


What did you do about food?

We had frozen food and rice. One of our neighbors owned a supermarket and he gave us a basket full of frozen food that was flooded but still edible.


How about lifeline services?

There was no water or electricity. We had propane gas cylinders and we could use it after pressing the reset button. A neighbor lent us a kerosene heater. We used it with a kettle on top. Three of us stayed in our living room.


What happened to your furniture?

They were ok in the living room. Cupboard in the kitchen fell and leaned against refrigerator. Bookshelf in my room on the second floor fell and its glasses were totally shattered. It would have been more dangerous if I had been there at the time of the earthquake. I used an electric lift to get into the house before the disaster. We put the sloped approach after the disaster. Before the disaster, I could get out and go down from the house but definitely not coming up and go into the house. I really recognized the importance of electricity.


Did electricity come back soon?

It came back at the end of March, on around 25th or 26th. Water service resumed at around the same time. It was brown color water though.


What did you do with drinking water?

My mother and brother went out to fill bottles or went to the Red Cross Hospital to receive water from water tank trucks.


Didn’t those trucks come this way?

It seemed they came to a junior high school about ten minutes away on foot from here, however, once you come back to your house you feel hesitant to go to these places for supplies. “Here is a person who doesn’t come here usually.” You imagine people would be thinking like that. We were told that we could receive emergency supplies at certain places, but we didn’t go there at all.


Were there many people staying at their houses around here?

Yes. Most of the houses here had not been washed away, so people stayed. The floor level of our house is the lowest among houses around here to have the sloped approach for wheelchair. That’s why electric lift and everything else were damaged here while in other houses they didn’t have any problem with their water heater.


Did you get rid of the mud by yourselves in this area?

Yes. We came back to the house on the 12th, but it was impossible for me to get out of the car because of the mud. I stayed overnight in the car. We cleared the mud just wide enough for the wheelchair on the 13th and I came in finally. It was just after midday, I think. We used any material such as rubbish bag to spread on the floor to cover it. I stayed on the wheelchair for a week without using bed for that period. I stayed like this.


Was that because you were afraid of aftershocks?

That was a part of the reasons. We were more worried that if I used my bed, it would take too much time before I could get ready to escape from tsunami. It takes quite a long time for me to move from the bed to wheelchair, say 10 to 20 minutes. I stayed all the time in this living room.