Saturday, March 19 – A Sendai Report

Yasue reports first-hand on what it is like living in a disaster zone. Life is starting to return to normal as some shops in downtown are opening. The news is crushingly sad in other areas though.

Yasue emailed her report today from her home in Sendai:

I felt two aftershocks early this morning and had to gather up my passport, my Green Card and other valuables from the desk while half asleep. This is because, If the desk fell down during an aftershock, it would take a long time to get to those.
I fell back to sleep and awoke late this morning. I cleaned up the house for a short time and got ready to visit mom at the hospital. I have to take  two buses and a subway, all of which are working now but not fully back to their pre-quake schedule.  I called mom and she told me the hospital was very cold. She is having to wear clothes on top of her pajamas to stay warm. I am glad I brought warmer clothes for her. I brought them a couple days ago in case we have another large earthquake or fire resulting in the patients being evacuated from the building. A nurse also gave her a warmer and it is very helpful. Mom also said her medicines have been reduced and I am wondering if this is because the hospital does not have any supply? I will have to check.
I walked to the bus stop and saw about 50 people waiting in line at our neighborhood vegetable shop. I wanted to join the line so much but I had to go to the hospital. I do not know much about the post-quake bus schedule and had to stop to ask an elderly lady if I was at the correct  stop. After a 15-minute wait, the bus came. On the way to the Izumi Chuo subway station, I saw a long line of cars around a gas station which is not even open yet. I guess they are waiting in line, not knowing when the station will open. Other than the vegetable market, I did not see any other stores open at all on the 30-minute ride to Izumi Chuo Station. I then transferred to a free shuttle bus to Dainohara Station. This shuttle is new because the quake damaged the subway station and railways leading to Dainohara. The shuttle takes about 20 minutes.  I then took a subway from Dainohara to Kotodai Koen.

I decided not to go straight to the hospital because I wanted to check the stores in downtown Sendai. I heard that some store owners are selling things from in front of their shops because the shops are damaged or have no power. A convenience store was open and I bought my limit of 2 rice balls and one donut. I also bought face wash for me. I will give all the food to my mom and her roommates. A small ramen and curry restaurant was open and I decided to have lunch there. A bowl of curry sauce on rice  (they don’t have any meat or vegetables to add to the curry) and a small egg drop soup cost  600 yen (about $6). The restaurant only seats about 10 people and I talked to the couple who owned the restaurant. He had to ride his bicycle in the snow two hours to get the ingredients.

I walked down to the shops and was thrilled to find that many restaurants are selling rice balls and small bento box lunches. I bought four more rice balls for my mom and roommates. Each one was 100 yen (about $1). Not bad! I couldn’t believe it when I found a vegetable shop open. I love vegetables and have been craving them since the quake. I bought pumpkin, cucumber, a huge Chinese cabbage and carrots. The total cost was a little over 1000 yen (about $10). The owner said he got them from the market and kept the price as low as possible to help everybody out. He said the wholesale  market only had about 10% of their normal stock yesterday and today it was down to 5%. Soon, they will be out. What will happen once they sell all the food that was in Sendai before the quake hit? We will be out of food.

I also found a store selling rice on the street and I bought 5 kilos (about 10 pounds). One of Sendai’s most famous ramen shops was offering Takidashi (a free meal) and had a very, very long line. A bowl of hot ramen sounds sooo good and it is free! So generous of the owners. But, I do not have time and also I am full from the curry. There is also a long line at a fruit store. Many stores are open downtown but are limiting items and have very little stock on hand.

I wonder why the American restaurant chains, like KFC and McDonald’s, are not yet open here? They have so many locations and could help us if they opened. They are big wealthy companies. They have to help the communities when they need help. Only the small shop owners are doing it.

I dragged the items I bought to the hospital. Their security is very tight now!!! There were two security guards and the doors are locked. They asked me why I am visiting and where I am from. I was carrying a small suitcase with the food inside and they were suspicious but let me through.
I gave the food I bought to mom and the other patients in her room and we all  shared rice balls and bananas. The room is indeed much colder and all the patients are wearing layers of clothes. Mom had an IV in because she has a little fever. I also asked the doctor if the hospital has enough medicine and he said yes. Even if they run out of her specific medicine, they can try a different brand.
I took the subway, free shuttle and city bus to go home. Thankfully, the connections were very good and it only took me about 90 minutes. It is still so cold.
The Post Office is now accepting small, envelope-size packages. My friends in Tokyo, Kimie and Michiko, sent me some snacks today. Kimie said there is no canned food at the stores in Tokyo. I heard the commercial delivery service, Takkubine, is also starting to accept boxes to Tohoku. I did not confirm this yet but it would be great if true.
I watched some news but I cannot  watch it without crying. One story was about the city of Ishinomaki, which was heavily damaged by the tsunami. This city has been hit many times before by tsunamis so a Gunma University professor, who is a tsunami expert, worked with city officials to improve safety there. He advised the city to combine the middle school and elementary school so the older kids could help if an evacuation was ever necessary. He trained the students and school staff on how best to evacuate and how the older students must help the younger ones. The combined school was a sturdy building that would withstand a tsunami of up to 12 feet. The professor visited the town this week after the tsunami to see if his plan worked. He was shocked when he saw the town. The tsunami reached the third floor of many buildings and he estimated it must have been more than 30-feet high. He looked for the school with much concern. The school was destroyed and he was heart-broken. However, he found out the students survived by fleeing to higher ground just like he taught them, with older students escorting the younger ones. The teachers told the professor the students had done a very good job.
In another news story, the reporter said all the young students were safe because the school building was strong enough to withstand the tsunami. However, the rest of their town was wiped out completely. Their parents are dead or missing. More than 100 children became orphans from one school. So many sad stories. Too many. I can’t watch.