East Japan Earthquake    March 11, 2011

Lack of cars, gas stymies search for missing kine

March 29, 2011

In areas hard hit by the March 11 disaster, many residents are increasingly desperate to learn whether their relatives survived and where they are. Across the Tohoku region and in some places in the Kanto region, more than 16,000 people are still missing after the 2011 Tohoku Pacific Offshore Earthquake and ensuing tsunami. Family members want to visit temporary morgues in their areas, but many are hampered in their attempt to do so by the loss of their vehicles in the tsunami or the inability to obtain gasoline. As sufficient transportation remains unavailable in affected areas, families must resort to hitchhiking, walking or, if they have vehicles, trying to scrounge gas. Day after day, their agonized search goes on. Last Thursday afternoon, Yuiko Yamazaki, 36, stood by a national road in Otsuchicho, Iwate Prefecture. Yamazaki held a piece of cardboard listing her desired destination of Otsuchi Middle School, which was being used as a makeshift morgue, and before long a minicar stopped. A couple in the car kindly let her in, saying, "We're heading to a shelter in the same direction." Just after the March 11 earthquake, Yamazaki dashed to her home in the town from her workplace. She tried to evacuate with her mother, Haruko, 64, and grandmother, Katsuko, 86, but they were engulfed by the tsunami. Yamazaki held onto the deck of a house floating on the water and only narrowly survived. But her mother and grandmother disappeared and have not been found in shelters in the town. Yamazaki said: "I think we'll only be reunited in a morgue. I want to find them as soon as possible." Her father, Kiyotake, 64, managed to survive at his workplace. Both took shelter in the town's central community hall. The shelter is three to five kilometers from each of the town's four makeshift morgues. The tsunami destroyed the Yamazakis' house and washed away the family car. Portions of local roads remain blocked by debris, requiring detours to the morgues that add additional time to the trip. Thus, Yamazaki and her father decided to divide their efforts to visit the various morgues, either by hitchhiking or walking. Her mother and grandmother still have not been found. Kiyotake had been scheduled to retire from his company this year. On the day before the quake, he and Haruko talked about traveling to the United States together after his retirement. He said, "If my wife is dead, I want to find her body at any cost and conduct an appropriate funeral." Even with a car, families face difficulty searching for missing loved ones because of the gas shortage. Toshiichi Sasaki, 58, of Rikuzen-Takata, Iwate Prefecture, on Thursday visited a makeshift morgue in neighboring Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, to search for his eldest daughter. His daughter Mayumi, 28, is thought to have been engulfed by the tsunami at the Rikuzen-Takata city government building where she worked. She has been missing since then. He said he wants to search for his daughter even if he has to travel across the entire Sanriku region, but worries about the gasoline shortage. The Sanriku region is the Pacific coastal area of Miyagi, Iwate and Aomori prefectures. "I avoid using my car except for visiting morgues," Sasaki said. On Friday, the Kesennuma city government began burying identified bodies without cremation. The city government plans to do the same for unidentified bodies at some point in the future. "I don't want Mayumi to be buried without our knowledge. I desperately want to find her," Sasaki said. (Yomiuri Shinbun)

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