East Japan Earthquake    March 11, 2011

Survivors search wreckage for mementos of lives, loved onese

March 24, 2011

The disaster swept everything away--thousands of people, their homes, cars and personal belongings. But in the sea of mud and wreckage, survivors are desperately searching for reminders of their past lives and loves, hoping for anything to help them through the terrible heartache brought on by the devastating earthquake and tsunami on March 11. Yuka Itami, 17, listlessly pokes the ground with a stick in Shichigahama, a town facing Bay of Sendai in Miyagi Prefecture. She is scouring the wasteland for the third-place medal she won at a national "kyudo" Japanese archery tournament. The senior high school student kept the medal in a drawer of her desk. She would occasionally open the drawer to gaze at the medal, drawing on its strength to refresh her determination to practice hard. Her daily search began three days after the disaster in the neighborhood where her home stood. So far, she has found pieces of the desk but not the medal. She says she is worried it might be lost forever once the full cleanup gets under way. "Workers may ditch the medal if they find it on the street," she says. "If someone finds it I hope they will keep it or report it to town officials." In the town of Minami-Sanriku in the prefecture, a woman in her 30s crouched on the ground, crying. "I did nothing wrong," she said. "Why do I have to go through this?" When the magnitude-9.0 temblor shook Japan's northeastern region, she was heading to a town behind the mountain to shop after putting her 2-year-old daughter to bed. The body of her child was discovered the following day under a pile of wreckage about 400 meters from where her home had stood. The mother said she opened the toddler's mouth to scrape out the mud with her fingers, just as she used to help her daughter brush her teeth when she was alive. She finally found a family photo album in the rubble three days after the disaster. As a cloud of dust swirled around, she clutched the mud-covered album to her chest and continued to cry. Mountains of debris must be removed from the ruined areas. Miyagi prefectural officials say they will not deny people the right to their property if they can help it. If workers find ancestral memorial tablets or safes during cleanup, those articles may be preserved. But an official in charge of the task said some items will have to be sacrificed. "We want to store as many personal articles as we can, but not small items," the official said. "That would hinder the clearance work."

Two sisters put cigarettes and flowers in memory of their father in a kitchen sink found in the wreckage of their parents' home in Natori, Miyagi Prefecture, on Monday. They said the bodies of their father and brother were found in a car and that their mother remains missing.


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