Washington Post correspondent Chico Harlan wrote a piece for Tuesday’s paper chronicling the rebuilding efforts in a tsunami-struck town. Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture has been the subject of many media reports and, thankfully, many donations and relief missions. This article pays special attention to individuals working in Minamisanriku, including local government employee Jinichi Sasaki:
He writes “OK” several dozen times each day, and Jinichi Sasaki figures he’ll scribble the word for years before anything about his town feels right again.
In this tsunami-obliterated fishing port, rebuilding begins with one word, which Sasaki, a municipal employee, writes — in English — on every invoice and delivery form. He uses it in lieu of a signature, in part because he likes its simple utility — an antidote for a place that was destroyed. A truckload of rubber boots: OK. A fresh crate of rubbish bags: OK. Forty thousand 500-milliliter bottles of water: OK.
Minamisanriku needs all of these things, and after Sasaki stamps his approval on the paperwork, volunteers stack the just-unloaded items in the sports arena that, eight weeks after the tsunami, keeps this town on life support. This is where Sasaki works, carrying three cellphones to keep pace with calls from donors, reminding them of the town’s ever-changing wish list. Inside the arena, boxes of clothing and canned food reach the rafters. Outside, rubble extends for 3.5 square miles.
A sequence of natural disasters March 11 reduced Minamisanriku to a place of profound grief and need. With rebuilding efforts in their infancy, officials such as Sasaki are realizing that the town’s shortages — too few supplies, too few jobs, too little safe land for new homes — could persist as long as the bad memories.
Sasaki’s worrying about the town’s needs prevents him from dwelling on his own. On March 11 he lost his car, his childhood home and his mother. At one point he was swallowed by the tsunami wave, long enough to think about his family and resign himself to death.
Since then, he has worked 60 days straight, and he has come to think that he’ll spend the last 12 years of his career — until retirement, at 60 — procuring and OK’ing the items necessary for an epic rebuilding project. Sasaki often updates the town’s Web site, maintaining a list of Minamisanriku’s top priorities. One month ago, the town had no sugar, no soy sauce, no nail clippers and no masking tape. Now it needs vegetables, cooking oil, sandals and toilet paper.
“Sasaki-san,” one town employee in a pink vest tells him, “there are six trucks outside waiting to unload.”
“Sasaki-san, the Shizugawa High School evacuation center wants 2,000 plastic bowls,” a co-worker calls to tell him. “Can you help us?”
“Are you Sasaki-san?” asks a man in a windbreaker, walking into the arena. The man says that he has come from Oita Prefecture, the opposite corner of the country, because he has the skills to do electrical repair work and wants to volunteer.
“OK,” Sasaki says, directing the man to a volunteer help desk.
The rest of the article, titled “After Japan’s tsunami, a town climbs back,” can be found on the Washington Post’s website here.