A local man now in Onagawa, Japan says rebuilding the tsunami-ravaged town seems such a distant possibility, relocation may be “the only sensible strategy,” for displaced residents.
John Craig also suggested in an email that Nelson may wish to host some Onagawa residents to give them respite from the devastated landscape.
Craig, who speaks fluent Japanese, arrived there last week on a rented four-ton truck, and says the town will “most likely be a disaster zone for a very long time so I am guessing long-term support is important.”
Although Onagawa needs housing, first the debris must be cleared.
“So even with money to [build] there is no land here to build on until the millions of tons of scrap is cleared,” Craig wrote.
“My reading of the situation is that relocation is the only sensible strategy that nobody here wants to think about … But having seen days and days of endless junk piles I have calculated the manpower and cost of a cleanup and it is unthinkably high.”
While the government is doing its best, he says there are limits, and the people of Onagawa may be left in the lurch. While they now have electricity and some water, they “do not yet have any kind of a plan about returning to anything like normal.”
He describes the inside of the evacuation centre as “very dismal,” with rows of cardboard sections that are the only privacy between 800 people. Others are staying in tents, each big enough for two people.
“They expect the government to come up with a plan to restore their lives. I can almost guarantee that will not happen.”
Craig says Canadians arriving there, even with the best of intentions, “just adds insult to injury as they are fed up with well-meaning foreigners who do not speak their language. It is extra work for them to consider how to best look after the foreign ‘guests.’ That work they do not need.”
He recommends Nelson use the money it has raised — over $23,000 to date — to bring residents to Canada. “At least it is something to look forward to,” he says. “They need a break from monotony.”
These “refreshment trips,” could see half a dozen people come to Nelson for a week or two every month, he says. They would go back to Japan “not only a little healed but more importantly with fresh ideas. These fresh ideas are what will define their future and believe me there are just none right now.”
Craig will present Onagawa’s mayor with all the money he has collected — about $12,000 — and his book of hope, which contains messages composed by citizens during stops on his lecture tour en route to Onagawa.
The 15-metre tsunami that destroyed the town centre swept one kilometer inland and left over 300 people dead and more than 1,000 missing.
Although they have no formal sister city arrangement, Nelson and Onagawa are linked through Lt. Robert Hampton Gray, a local fighter pilot who died there at the end of World War II. A monument in his honour was erected in 1989, and Onagawa students have visited Nelson over the last eight years.
• Michael Luzia, the Abbotsford man who was teaching in Onagawa, is expected in Nelson this week. He has been involved in fundraising in the Lower Mainland — Steveston alone has raised over $100,000.
“It’s been an amazing effort by everyone there,” he says. “I have managed to raise a few thousand dollars personally as well, and have two schools doing fundraising efforts.”
School districts in Langley and Richmond have been writing letters of encouragement and support which Luzia plans to take to Onagawa at the end of the month.