This is going to be a massive post. It’s just too painful too keep coming back to this place, even if it is only photos. I’m glad I saw what I did, but it will be awhile until I can return to my normal self again. This is the school as I saw it, abandoned and untouched, frozen in time after the last fires were put out and the evacuation completed. I took these on April 2, quite some time after the disaster, but not long after the area was declared safe by the search and rescue teams.
The people who took me there told me that the school will never be used again, even though the building is structurally intact. On April 10th, some teachers organized a return to the school to retrieve personal belongings and to salvage what they could. At least the kids seemed to enjoy that. Worst hit were the ground floor offices and the top floor where the sixth graders had their homerooms. For some reason, the principal had locked all the grades and graduation documents in a safe prior to the disaster and some people told me that it survived the tsunami and the fire.
I made a Picasa gallery of all these photos, and some others. Most of them have GPS information so you can follow the route I took from Tokyo to the school. Of course there were plenty of stops and things I didn’t take photos of. These photo are completely unedited and at full size. If you want to use any of them for publication let me know first thanks.
If you want to see what the area used to look like before the disaster, please have a look using Google Street View, searching for the address 宮城県石巻市門脇町２丁目 and then clicking “maps”, and finally “street view”. I started too but it’s just painful to see the difference between then and now. Here is what the school used to look like, at the main gate.
This is the first of the photos showing the inside of the school, this is the main entrance where students and visitors would remove their outside shoes and change into the indoor shoes or slippers. The mud is mixed with ash from the fire.
First corridor, looking east. You can see the decoration put up by students and teachers to celebrate the graduation.
A blackboard outside the teacher’s office with diplomas and certificates, photos proudly displayed. Some fire damage.
An administrative office, much like thousands of other Japanese elementary schools.
A fire damaged space for washing up in the ground floor corridor.
Outside of the school, just next is the garbled remains of a buddhist cemetary.
The entrance to the school gymnasium. Largely intact but water damaged. Someone has tried to save the big taiko drum from the mud and water.
Inside the gymnasium. Mud everywhere, but building is intact and mostly undamaged. This is because it was situated on higher ground and shielded from the burning cars by the cemetery.
The stage. Classes had just ended and sixth graders together with teachers were just getting ready to prepare the gymnasium for next week’s graduation ceremony.
Time has stopped. The earthquake struck on 14:46, at about 14:49 power supply was interrupted and the clock is not moving any more.
The handwritten sign is by the 5th graders and read “6th graders, thank you for all the memories”.
Back in the main school building. This is the nurses office and the counsellor’s room. First aid kits, physical equipment lays scattered.
A classroom on the ground floor. The tsunami washed away all that was written on the black board.
A writing practice book belonging to little Sakurai. I hope he is ok.
The children had just finished math class and were probably getting ready to leave when the earthquake struck. The teacher had collected a pile homework to check. The text on the blackboard tells us the date, March 11th, and that Hayate and Yuu were on homeroom duty. One boy and one girl to help out with small tasks in the class room, this rotates every week or in some schools every day.
View from third floor, swimming pool and school yard.
Indoor shoe covered in mud and sand.
This student had better hand writing than most English native speakers and better than mine, certainly.
One of the saddest places I have ever visited must be this school, the Kadowaki Elementary (門脇小学校). It survived the earthquake and the following tsunami, like most schools in the disaster hit areas, but it didn’t stand a chance when struck by the burning cars. The wall of water made it impossible for the fire fighters to try and put out the fire from the front, so their only way to fight the fire was to go around to the back of the school, climb up the hill and shoot water down from above it. They managed to save about half of the school, including most first grader’s classrooms, and the gym. Of the 300 students 8 are still missing. Here are photos I took right in front of the school, and of the burned out teacher’s office on the ground floor. The burnt out classrooms on the top floor belonged to the 5th and 6th grades. The tsunami reached far up on the second floor. If it hadn’t been for the hill behind the school it would have been much worse.
Driving towards one of the worst hit schools in the whole of Miyagi Prefecture we entered an area where the look of the damage and the color of the debris suddenly changed. From the grey blue of the tsunami mud to the ocher tones of burned and rusted metal. In this part of town, about 10 minutes after the earthquake had set fire to a few parked cars, the tsunami hit and carried a wave of cars belonging to several different shops and factories towards, over and through a residential area, spreading the fire as the tsunami moved towards the last buildings of the area, the Kadowaki Elementary school were evacuations of the 300 students where just taking place. As you can see, cars and buildings that survived the tsunami were heavily damaged in the subsequent fires.
This was once the location of a Yakult center.
The road we were traveling had only just been opened a day before, and many soldiers remained in the area to clean roads and search for bodies.
Road towards Kadowaki Elementary School, just cleared of debris.
This bonsai tree didn’t make it.
A few newly constructed residential houses somehow survived the earthquake, the tsunami and the fire. Nothing remains of the interior though. The tsunami easily reached the roof tops.
After doing the first drop off in Higashimatsushima, we continued through Ishinomaki along the harbor area to see the damage inflicted to the elementary school of my friend’s daughter. Ishinomaki was one of the hardest hit cities along the Miyagi coast and the nature of the heavy industries lining the water front made the impact of the tsunami even worse. The contents of factories and raw material producers spread out far and wide over the residential areas north of the harbor. This is a house that survived the tsunami but now lies half buried in rubble.
This car and metal roof sheeting was wrapped like tissue paper around a reinforced concrete pole, just on the corner to the Nippon Paper factory.
A Family Mart convenience store is structurally intact but completely blown out by the tsunami. Nothing remained inside, no trace of the ATM either.
Some water by the remains of the private railroad serving the huge paper factory just at the harbor entrance. You can see the metal containers caught by the tsunami just before entering the factory. The address sign in the second picture reads Okaido Higashi 2 Choume, 大街道東二丁目１２.
You can see how high the tsunami reached on this blue building. The initial wave was probably taller though.
Whatever was inside this beautiful gate and walled compound must have special, now nothing remains. It was good to see that the some of the sturdiest buildings were the traditional Japanese.
“On Wings To the Future, Ishinomaki Harbor” reads the text on this map sign.
Looking up the road north towards Ishinomaki Futabachou.
What remains of the Nankou Transportation Corp., 南光運輸, the main office. Luckily they still have operations in many other places around the country. I hope they can get started again soon.
Passing a soba restaurant, Oikawa, facing the intersection with road 240.
Seven Eleven Convenience store on the corner by road 240. As you can see, everything up to this corner was heavily damaged, but if I am not mistaken this convenience store was open when I passed here again a week later. As you can see from the buildings behind, there is a sharp contrast between the areas hit by the tsunami and those spared. More pictures to come.