Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Japan: Volunteer divers continue search for victims of 3/11 tsunami disaster

Heading out to sea, Junichi Sato takes medicine to control his motion sickness, a problem he never had until the 2011 tsunami killed his mother and young daughter and son.

“I used to have resistance to sea sickness before my family’s boat was swept away by the tsunami,” he said.

Although his family members are among the more than 15,000 people confirmed dead in the March 2011 disaster, Sato keeps searching the ocean for the 2,500 still listed as missing, including 440 Ishinomaki residents, to help others gain closure.

He is not alone in his efforts.

Volunteer divers from across the nation continue to search the seabed off the northeastern city, two years and four months since the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami devastated the Tohoku region.

The volunteers include a civil servant, a police officer, a firefighter and an employee of a measurement instrument company.

The group has decided to end the diving activities off the Kitakami-machi district of Ishinomaki in August. However, the volunteers said they will continue their searching efforts, which started the same year of the disaster, in areas that have remained untouched so far.

“We have to do everything we can do,” said one of the divers, Toshihiko Otsubo, 47, who normally operates a beauty salon in Hiroshima. “That’s all we want.”

On one recent unseasonably chilly morning, the divers took a boat out to misty sea from a fishing port near the mouth of the Kitakami River.

Sato, 36, set a fish-finding sonar on the gunwale before the boat reached the intended location. After the sonar detected sunken debris, the divers entered the water. Taking their turn in pairs, they searched the seabed for bodies.

On the day of the disaster, Sato’s mother and his two children were at the Kitakami branch office of the Ishinomaki City Hall, where more than 50 people were killed in the tsunami. Two pupils who attended the same elementary school as Sato’s children are still missing.

The divers have found cars and fishing vessels on the seafloor, but they have not located any bodies so far.

“I cannot sort out my emotions even now,” said one volunteer, who was a child when his father disappeared in a boating accident.

The divers are aware of the difficulties in finding bodies so long after the disaster. But Sato said they have continued to search out of a desire to return the remains of loved ones to their families.

“I can gain strength when I see the strong motivation of the volunteer members,” Sato said.

Tuesday 30 July 2013



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