Many people around the world have forgotten about the tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan in March of 2011. The people of Japan and the people who live along the coast of North America are not among them.
The people of Japan remain overwhelmed by the enormity of their loss. Whole villages were washed away. Nearly 20,000 people are believed to have died during the tsunami. Hundreds of families lost everything they owned. Many of them are still living in one room temporary housing provided by the Japanese government. Electricity is scarce. Government buildings turned up their thermostats during the sweltering Japanese summer to 85 degrees, and asked business and homes to do the same. Of the 50 nuclear reactors functioning at the time of what the Japanese refer to as Tohoku Earthquake; only two are still in operation. The people demanded that they be closed after it turned out that reactor owners and the government had played down the severity of the disaster. There is speculation that when the last two are shut down for maintenance in the spring of 2013, they may not go back online.
So far, most of what has arrived on Oregon’s shore is debris, unrecognizable. However to the Japanese who are grieving, each object is precious. It might have belonged to a lost loved one. Anything that can be identified is a treasure. KIRO 7 Eyewitness News reporter Gary Horcher, spoke to some people he met at a shrine for the 74 children lost at an elementary school in Ishinomaki City. They urged him to tell the American people that the things washing up on the beach are not garbage; they were someone’s personal belonging and should be treated with respect.
The Japanese people feel a responsibility for the debris that is floating toward the Pacific Coast of North America. The Japanese Government has promised $6 million to the U.S. and Canada to help cover the cost of the cleanup. In October 2012, a film crew from Japan visited the Oregon Coast and filmed portions of a documentary about how the tsunami debris is affecting the lives of people on the West Coast. The documentary will discuss how the cleanup is being done, show volunteers cleaning a beach, talk about ship safety in regard to large pieces of debris, and explain the dangers to the environment of the coast from invasive species. The documentary will be shown on Japanese television in November. The Japanese people are very concerned that their problem has become the problem of others.
The people on the West Coast of North America hold no animosity toward the Japanese. Natural disasters are not the responsibility of the country where they occur. S.O.L.V. (Stop Oregon Litter and Vandalism) is coordinating volunteer efforts to keep the beaches clean of debris. S.O.L.V. along with Surfrider Foundation and other volunteer groups have worked 21 weekends. One weekend in September, volunteers from youths to senior citizens and coastal residents and inlanders removed a total of 51,600 pounds of debris.
Most of the debris is barely recognizable, but a few items have reached the beach in pristine condition. Items such as a football, a volleyball, (the owners were identified by the names on the balls) a Harley Davidson motorcycle (tracked down by its license plate number), and a few other things have arrived in good condition and been returned to their owners. A fishing vessel, that arrived at an island off the coast of British Columbia, Canada, has not been claimed although it appears to be in good condition.
Volunteers are asked to call 211 if they find an item that can be identified or has monetary value. They are also cautioned to stay away from hazardous items such as oil, gas and chemical containers, and call the same number so authorities can remove them safely.
It will be years before all the debris reaches the shores of western North America. The Japanese are trying to rebuild their lives. The Americans and Canadians who live along the coast are working to minimize the damage to the ecosystems along the shore. We may never forget.