Current Information · Images · Miyagi Prefecture 宮城県 · Sendai Earthquake, March 11, 2011 · Tohoku  東北

Journal of a Tohoku Volunteer

Miguel Arboleda packed up a survival kit and headed north, to do what he can for those affected by the earthquake/tsunami. Here are some of his messages.

Day 1 (March 3, 2011)
Have reached Miyagi Prefecture, after passing through Ibaraki and Fukushima. Just a beautiful day with fast moving traffic. Occasionally big cracks in the road. Wouldn’t even know there was an earthquake. But from here on it’s into the real stuff. Haven’t seen it yet.


It’s getting really cold. Midwinter temps. And people are out there in this?

Day 2 (March 4, 2011)
Hi Everyone,

I’m sorry I couldn’t write sooner. My phone carrier was out.

I’m exhausted, so I can’t write a lot. Besides, I don’t really know how to put into words what I’ve seen and experienced. It… is… incomprehensibly vast. Everything has been totally and with power you can’t imagine, destroyed. I still cant even believe I’m here.

For now I wont try to put all this into words. So I’ll write a quick rundown of what I’ve been doing.

We arrived late at night at the evacuation center, which is located in a public gym at the top of a hill. So safe from tsunamis. Everything was closed down so we found a night shift doctor and found a place to camp. It was freezing cold… -3 degrees C, but with so much humidity from the tsunamis passage that it felt much colder. I hardly slept at all.

I joined a volunteer group in the morning which concentrated on searching for “memories”, things like photographs, wallets, important belongings that can not be replaced. All I can say about driving into the destroyed areas is that when looking at it, and thinking there were hundreds of kilometers of this, how in the world was anyone going to even know where to start? Picking out photographs was such a tiny tiny thing, and I felt like both an intruder and infinitely small. But it was good know I could do something.

The group asked that we not take photographs, and for me at least, I put my camera away. That didn’t stop NHK from filming me for about 2 hours, so I may very well appear on the was slow, hard work in the falling snow and mud everywhere and dangerous boards and overturned houses and exploded trucks and trash as far as you could see. There was one pile of a house that had been bent around a telephone pole where I came across the remains of a teenage girl’s room, and as I stood there I just broke down weeping. The news photographer who was photographing me looked stricken and in great shock, and couldn’t continue for a while. I wanted to give him a big hug.

I will continue tomorrow and try to think more about what all this is. In the meantime u want to express, very strongly, that the people here are wonderfully resilient and in fantastic spirits. One young woman I worked with who came from the neighboring town, was so strong and practical and cheerful, it put my sentimentality to shame. And almost everyone I met was like that.

Got to go to make dinner, but I wanted to get this out to you.