Sometimes, it's not that you died, but HOW you died.
RIKUZEN-TAKATA, Iwate - An administrator at a hospital destroyed by the March 11 tsunami gave his life to protect a precious lifeline--a satellite phone that was doctors' only link to the outside world after the disaster.
Sixty-year-old Shigeru Yokosawa was scheduled to retire at the end of the month, but he died in the tsunami that consumed Takata Hospital in Rikuzen-Takata.
Since that tragic day, the hospital's staff has continued to work in a makeshift clinic, using the satellite phone to communicate with rescuers and aid workers. Land lines and cell phones in the city were out of service after the disaster, making the satellite phone the only way to request medication and call for help with patients needing emergency care.
Just after the main tremor hit, more than 100 people--hospital staff, patients and local residents who had come seeking shelter--were in the four-story concrete building. Minutes later, people started shouting a huge tsunami was approaching.
According to Kaname Tomioka, a 49-year-old hospital administrator, he was on the building's third floor when he looked out the window and saw a tsunami more than 10 meters high coming straight at him. Tomioka ran down to the first floor staff room and saw Yokosawa trying to unhook the satellite phone by the window.
Satellite phones are vitally important during disasters, when land lines are often cut and cell phone towers are down.
Tomioka shouted to Yokosawa, "A tsunami's coming. You have to escape immediately!" But Yokosawa said, "No! We need this no matter what."
Yokosawa got the phone free and handed it to Tomioka, who ran up to the roof. Seconds later, the tsunami struck--engulfing the building up to the fourth floor--and Yokosawa went missing.
Hospital staff could not get the satellite phone to work on March 11, but when they tried again after being rescued from their rooftop refuge by a helicopter on March 13, they were able to make a connection. With the phone, the surviving staff was able to ask other hospitals and suppliers to send medication and other supplies.
On March 15, four days after the quake, the remaining staff set up the makeshift clinic in a community center and went back to work caring for patients. Since its launch, the makeshift clinic has seen more than 150 patients a day.
As of Tuesday, the satellite phone was still the only available tool for obtaining information about patients in shelters who needed emergency care.
On Monday, Yokosawa's wife Sumiko, 60, and his son Junji, 32, found his body in a morgue. On Tuesday, they brought him back home to Shiwacho in the prefecture.
Yokosawa's job as a prefectural government hospital administrator took him to many places throughout his career, sometimes far from his family. Two years ago, he became the hospital's chief administrator.
Yokosawa's coworkers praised him for his gentle ways and the attention he paid to patients.
Sumiko said when she saw her husband's body, she told him in her mind, "Darling, you worked hard," and carefully cleaned some sand from his face. She said she had believed he was alive but had been too busy at the hospital to contact his family.
"I'm proud of all the good my husband did for the people there," she said. "Now that his body is at home, his soul should be at rest."
Someone has taped a piece of paper to the satellite phone that reads: "Yokosawa's phone. Our chief is helping us from heaven."
-The Yomiuri Shimbun/Asia News Network
And sometimes, it's about how you live.
Makeshift housing takes shape in hard-hit town
Yomiuri Shimbun March 21, 2011
The construction of makeshift housing has begun in the city of Rikuzen-Takata, devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. The government and industrial organizations are speeding up efforts to secure enough materials to build temporary housing for people displaced by the disaster. Efforts at supporting and rebuilding the daily lives of quake-affected people are coming into reality, albeit slowly. In Rikuzen-Takata, 10,547 people - nearly half the population - are forced to live at evacuation sites.
In the schoolyard of Rikuzen-Takata No. 1 middle school, now home to 1,250 people -the largest number of evacuees at one place in the city -heavy construction machinery and trucks loaded with construction material arrived one after another over the weekend.
Said Rikuzen-Takata Mayor Futoshi Toba said: "We have to move forward, so it is quite encouraging that the construction work is now starting."
The planned makeshift houses are one-storey buildings that have two rooms plus a dining kitchen, with a total floor space of 30 square metres (322 sq. ft.) each. In this schoolyard, about 200 houses will be built in about three weeks. Elsewhere in the prefecture, about 100 temporary houses will be built on a playground in Kamaishi, with the houses expected to be ready for evacuees to move into late next month.
"I hope we can move into a makeshift house and lead a life with some time to relax as soon as possible," said aid Chiharu Murakami, 36, a mother from Rikuzen-Takata whose house, built just two years ago, was washed away by the tsunami.
Even here, life has a tendancy to heal. And as I speculated at the beginning of this story, the same people who stood up for the beauty of their world time and again are not just walking away.
As a sidelight, I wondered how the people of our sister city of Takaoka came through all this. As it turns out, Takaoka is south of Tokyo on the other side of Honshu, about as safe as you could be on the island. A group of students on tour in England said they felt the quake, but no one was harmed. It also didn't stop a group of students visiting Ft.Wayne last week and hosted by Bishop Luers families.