May 10, 2011
The tsunami which followed the earthquake of March 11 demolished a large fish processing factory located in Iharatsu, a mainly residential seaside town located about 1 km from Ishinomaki. Along with mountains of debris and toxic sludge, huge numbers of fish were strewn about all over town.
Now that over a month has passed, the rotting remains of fish hidden in the debris and sludge are now posing a serious health risk, as well as being the source of an unbearable smell which permeates the area. In order to alleviate this problem, the Peace Boat Disaster Relief Team established the ‘Fish Retrieval Project’.
The project idea was brought forth through discussion with other organizations also carrying out relief work in the area. This collaborative effort began May 2, and two days were spent focused solely on the removal of dead fish from the Ichome and Nichome districts of Iharatsu.
A total of 90 volunteers helped to clear debris, find dead fish, to ‘dig them out’ using shovels and to place them in sandbags.
A staggering total of 18 tons of fish and sludge was removed over the 2 day period.
In then end, nine 2 ton trucks were required to help with removal.
Project leader Saza Shinsuke tells us about what kept him and his team motivated despite the gut-wrenching stench that filled the air.
“It was because we saw the local people still living here. We volunteers are only here for a few days to help out. Therefore we must work to our fullest while we are here,” he said.
“Work on the first day was carried out with 60 volunteers. Out of which, I had to pick 30 members for the second (and last) day of this job. After one day out in the field with the stench, I honestly didn’t think that anybody would want to volunteer to go out again. To my surprise however, almost everyone raised their hand when asked!”
I was in the area for only 10 minutes to interview Mr Saza. The heady stench stuck to my clothes even after such a short time.
I noticed the stench had also permeated my car seat during my ride back to Ishinomaki. This is a testament to the unbelievable conditions in the area now.
“We paid a visit to the local neighbourhood association leader after we finished our work. He commented that the other association members would be envious of him because he got visited by the volunteers! This was very flattering, and of course it made me feel like we accomplished something,” recalled Mr Saza.