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The Sendai Tsunami

Story and Photos By: Preston Drake-Hillyard Travis Turner


On March 10 at 9:45 p.m. rain fell on the coast where the Pacific Ocean meets Humboldt. More than 4,600 miles northeast, 15 miles below the surface of the same ocean a magnitude 9.0 undersea mega-thrust earthquake occurred. This triggered one of the most destructive tsunamis

in recorded history. The wave struck the eastern coast of Japan 69 minutes later at its nearest point to the epicenter, Sendai. Less than 10 hours later the tsunami reached the north coast of California. Those sleeping or with hushed televisions had no idea what headed towards the North Coast. Tsu-

nami warning sirens began to blow and text messages from HSU campus officials were sent out to students, staff, and faculty early in the morning. As news of the wave travelled over social networks like Twitter and Facebook some Humboldt County residents moved toward higher ground.

When the surge struck it decimated the harbor in nearby Crescent City. The surge rushed up local rivers while residents watched from the Clam Beach vista. Seven people along the North Coast were swept out to sea; one is presumed dead.


In Japan the situation was exponentially worse. The earthquake and tsunami damaged railroads, destroyed entire towns, and left nuclear reactors unstable and venting radiation into the air. Over 600 aftershocks greater than magnitude 4.5 subsequently struck Japan. In the week following the earthquake and tsunami gas lines were shut off, fuel was rationed, and food became scarce in northeastern cities. Buses left Sendai, but travelled only to local regions due to fuel restraints. One bus took people from Sendai to Fukushima, a city where damage to multiple nuclear reactors caused radiation to escape into the air. Locals in Sendai waited hours to buy gas from closed stations based on rumors that gas was coming. Stations distributed gas in one gallon rations. Closer to the coast the devastation is absolute. Swaths of communities were washed away.

Homes were turned to toothpicks or flipped upside down and carried down to the Natori River. Hundreds of cars were thrown around the city by the sheer magnitude of the oncoming water, resting in trees or on top of surviving structures. Thousands upon thousands of beer cans and kegs litter the ground, washed out of the local Kirin brewery. A foot of mud covers the floor of the houses that survived. Sirens wail constantly from local fire engines in the city, day and night. Structure fires are rampant as electricity returns to moderately damaged areas. The people of Sendai clean up using brooms, shovels, and any machinery for which they can find fuel. Back in Humboldt and Del Norte counties life is getting back to normal and clean up of affected areas is progressing. In Japan, cleanup is a daunting task, an enormous task, and one that most of the people living in Sendai will not see completed in their lifetimes.


From the Photographers Covering events like the tsunami in Sendai leave journalists open to criticism and begs the question, “Why do they cover things like this?� Whether it is disaster or conflict these types of events give an objective look at how humanity weathers the toughest of storms. These moments are the extremes. From Georgia and the short war with Russia in 2008, the ongoing drug war in Tijuana, the 2010 earthquake in Haiti to the destructive power of a tsunami in Japan we have been watching. We have seen heroes emerge, great courage displayed and hope embraced. In some cases we have seen the darkest of human emotions on display: rage, despair and hate. The former acts as a compass pointing humanity to what it is capable of, the latter gives us examples of where we failed to hit the mark. That is why we do it. It gives us hope, that we all

have endless possibilities. In Japan, we saw neighbors fashion a bucket brigade to stop a fire engulfing the local elementary school. Dozens of worn out firefighters showed up to help. One chief of the Sendai Fire Department used a bullhorn while fire teams entered the building to stop the blaze. Cars rest upended everywhere, some on top of houses. Torn down factories and semi-trucks with containers stand about the landscape like discarded toys. On March 18, 2011 heavy equipment cleared roads and locals started picking through remains. We saw people in Sendai in the worst situation one could imagine. Yet, they seemed steadfast, resilient and courageous ready to tackle this disaster as they would any other event in their lives; with a small bow and the utmost determination.


The Sendai Tsunami