A Look Back: Following the Devastation of Tohoku Region Pacific Coast Earthquake
by Takayuki Tsujii
One year ago today, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake occurred at 14:46 off the Sanriku coast in the Tohoku Region of Japan. It exceeded that of the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and the Hokkaido Toho-oki Earthquake of 1994 making it the biggest earthquake recorded in Japan’s history. Following the earthquake, Patagonia Japan’s General Manager, Takayuki Tsujii, set out to Sendai City, where our Sendai Store is located, and to Ishinomaki City, located Northeast of Sendai, for three days from March 27th to 29th to assess the specific support Patagonia Japan could provide to the disaster relief efforts. The following is Taka’s report. It was originally published by The Cleanest Line Japan on April 7,2011.
Since it was close to sunset when I arrived at Sendai Station via Yamagata Airport, I visited our Sendai Store and spent my first evening there talking to the store staff, exchanging information. Although we had confirmed the safety of all staff a couple of days after the earthquake, I felt that listening closely to what they had experienced in the 2 weeks since would be very meaningful in trying to gain an accurate understanding of what we as a company can do to help. There were few cracks in the paint of the wall within the store but the building itself seemed to be solid and undamaged.
[Above: Tsujii visiting the sites, near Sendai New Port. All photos: Patagonia Japan]
Immediately following the earthquake, the electricity and water were back on so many of the staff took turns to convene at the store to clean up and deliver down, fleece, and underwear items that would provide some warmth to those in the evacuation centers that some of the staff themselves had been staying at. The products were given mainly to the elderly and children suffering from the cold temperature. The store also has an electric hot water shower made available for use by the staff, their families, and customers who had visited our store. A middle school teacher from a school in Ishinomaki came by the store to use the shower the day I was there.
The following day, I heard from a local surfer named xx Suzuki who patronizes our Sendai Store that his son is volunteering out of the Ishinomaki Senshu University and headed out there with some store staff. The sights that I saw of Ishinomaki city far exceeded my expectations in terms of damage and destruction. The Ishinomaki Senshu University had opened their doors to accommodate the Ishinomaki Social and Welfare Council and the Ishinomaki Red Cross Hospital, both organizations that had received structural damage from the tsunami.
[Volunteer tent grounds, Ishinomaki.]
According to Mr. Yuki Abe of the Ishinomaki Social and Welfare Committee who had set up a Disaster Relief Center within the campus, there was a great number of homes that were swept away by the tsunami and destroyed, however, there were also many homes that escaped complete destruction on the upper floors. However, the 1st floor of these homes were filled with debris and sludge brought in by the tsunami. He also spoke how they were struggling with the massive cleanup effort that he calculated would take about 3 days by a group of 10 people to complete the cleanup of one house.
[Mountains of trash and debris gathered after cleaning up the sludge, Ishinomaki.]
I also learned during my visit that a shuttle bus service was in operation on a test-basis by the Ishonomaki Social and Welfare Council. This bus service not only enabled people who weren’t able to go to help at the sites due to the lack of gasoline but also eliminated much of the situation thought to endanger the volunteers in transit to and from the sites.
Few days following the announcement of this bus service, they received well over the capacity of 70 people and later heard that they increased the number of runs as of April 5th. According to Mr. Abe, the priorities as the number of volunteers increase are to develop leaders who will guide the volunteers and provide effective support. Following the earthquake and prior to the availability of the bus, our Sendai Store staff used their own discretion to provide as much support as possible but they decided to have 2 staff per day use this shuttle bus service and volunteer. We hoped that the Sendai Store staffs’ participation and accumulated experience may provide some support in the tasks Mr. Abe mentioned must be handled.
As was reported via the media, the type of support needed differed depending on the area due to the wide range of devastation. It made it very difficult for us to ascertain objectively what we should do in which area as a company. However, having been in the affected areas at that timing made me strongly realize that a mid-size company like Patagonia would be able to provide effective support if we focused our limited financial and personnel resources.
With that, Patagonia Japan decided to provide as much support as possible within Ishinomaki City due to its proximity to our Sendai Store and because they had a clear list of needs. We asked for volunteers through our Employee Volunteer Internship program and sent a max of 30 employees during April 12th to 24th to the Ishinomaki Social and Welfare Council to assist mainly in the extraction of sludge and cleanup of homes.
The Sendai Store is currently operating upon careful consideration of the residents who had suffered and of our staff and their families as well as the Tohoku Region’s condition. We sincerely hope that the store will serve as a place of respite and place to gather/exchange information on status and relief efforts.
We plan on providing updates on Patagonia’s actions related to the earthquake through The Cleanest Line blog as well as through our website and Email News. The information we provide to you is probably just a part of the big picture, however, we hope that they may be useful and that they may lead to more support/relief for those affected.
Lastly, I would like to convey my deepest sympathies to all those affected and I pray for a speedy and safe recovery.
On this tragic anniversary, we extend our deepest condolences for the loss of many precious lives and express our heartfelt sympathy to those who are still living in hard conditions brought upon by the East Japan Earthquake of 2011. We also would like to express the utmost respect we have for all local government personnel and volunteers who were involved in the rescue and relief efforts at the affected sites immediately following the devastation.
If you would like to help support recovery efforts in Japan, Patagonia and Fletcher Chouinard Designs (FCD) are selling two benefit T-shirts.
FCD is offering a Kim Diggs t-shirt with proceeds going to the Sendai Surf Union, a group of local surfers who are working to rebuild the Sendai Shinko following the March 2011 Tsunami and restore the beauty of their ocean for all to enjoy once again. 100% of each full price sale of this shirt will go to help the cleanup effort at this epic surf spot.
And Patagonia is offering the Live Simply Japan Relief T-Shirt, designed by Geoff McFetridge, with 100% of the proceeds from full-price sales going to the Tsunagari Nukumori Project to help install renewable energy facilities in areas of Japan affected by the tsunami.
For more on life after the earthquake (with a caffeinated twist), check out our previous post, Japan Rising.