Following 3/11 – The Great East Japan Earthquake: a volunteer’s Disaster Reconstruction Report [No.5]

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Getting factories back up will bring a little hope to local economy and employment


Ishinomaki City has just closed all its shelters on October 11. On one point of view, this is a happy fact, as it proves that things are progressing and that the people affected by the March 11 Tsunami have found a place to stay. This closure officially marks the transition into a new stage in the region’s reconstruction. However, it also puts an end to all direct support, information or life management that were provided in shelters, and everyone has to live on by themselves. Only a handful of people had the chance to go back to their own homes. Some have chosen to rent miniature studios, others moved in with family or friends, or camp on the second floor of their damaged houses, but the majority has been attributed temporary housing through a random draw.

Those prefab cubicles are aligned in quarters, spread here and there around the great Ishinomaki. There you don’t know your neighbors, you foresee the cold winter coming up too soon, the general atmosphere is of sadness. The local authorities are postponing their decision about the new zoning rules for the potential reconstruction of the residential areas. There is a thick grey cloud covering employment possibilities. The uncertainty of the future is getting heavier. All this of course without forgetting the solitude caused by the giant hole left by the loss of close ones.

Within this atmosphere and facing this more and more complicated situation, the work of volunteers has yet evolved, but nevertheless remains crucial. Mud and debris clearing chores continue now in remote areas unaccessible until recently. However other actions and projects are put into place. Some volunteering groups bring help to facilitate communication and give a lively touch to daily life at temporary housing quarters. We are also asked to organize events, help movings, in other words, not to let people down on their own.

On another aspect, we also give a hand to companies that have the will to get back into business. As an example, we clean up the machinery parts of one of the rare fish processing manufactures that have the chance to be rebuilt. This way, when the few-million- dollar machinery runs again, this company will be able to hire tens of people and give back a little bit of hope in the region.

While waiting for the new residential zoning plans, we also get prepared to help the reconstruction of the half-washed-away houses. This is a complicated, expensive specialized field that demands a lot of coordination. It is however primordial that the people finally return to their homes and get their normal life back.

The shelters are closed, yes, this is good news. The most important thing is not to forget that the families, children and elderly people, still live in temporary conditions.

Christine Lavoie-Gagnon
Originally from Quebec, Canada, she has lived in Japan for over 17 years and manages a communications firm in Tokyo. However, she is most likely to be found in Ishinomaki with NADIA, an organization she founded to aid the victims of the disaster.

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