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In Japan, A City Left In Shambles By A 'Mighty Woosh'

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In Japan, A City Left In Shambles By A 'Mighty Woosh'

In Japan, A City Left In Shambles By A 'Mighty Woosh'

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer. Steve Inskeep is on assignment in Egypt.

In northern Japan it's a world of freezing temperatures with little food, water or fuel. The official death count is more than 5,000, with thousands more missing. NPR's NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports on survivors in a small fishing village.

ANTHONY KUHN: These are the docks of the city of Kesennuma, a fishing port where ships unload their cargoes of bonito and mackerel pike. A few things look out of place here. There's a ship, several stories high, sitting in the middle of the street. There are cars perched precariously on top of buildings. Some buildings have been washed away and are sitting atop cars. Everything seems to sit at an unnatural angle, buried amid the mud and the debris.

At city hall, Mr. and Mrs. Katsuhisa Honda are among the residents pouring over lists and bulletin boards, searching for the names of survivors and victims.

Mr. KATSUHISA HONDA: (Foreign language spoken)

KUHN: I'm looking for someone I know, he says. This person is not on any list yet. Many of the victims who are found can't even be identified, so I'm worried.

Honda recalls the sirens wailing just minutes before the tsunami hit. He can find no words to express his grief at the loss of friends and neighbors.

Mr. HONDA: (Foreign language spoken)

KUHN: This time we're being severely tested. If we can just get through it, he says, wiping away his tears with a tissue. We've got to show our Japanese spirit.

The Hondas hope to rebuild their family ceramics business, but they're afraid their regular customers won't come back.

Mr. HONDA: (Foreign language spoken)

KUHN: After all, it will take time for the economy to recover, he predicts. My son is 30-something, but I don't think he'll get to see it. Perhaps by my grandson's generation.

The Hondas head downhill to see what's left of their shop. Cups and bowls lie helter-skelter. In the back, pictures of the Honda's ancestors hang high on the wall, the tsunami's muddy waterline drying across their brows. Honda recalls the astonishing sight of his furniture rising up towards the roof.

Mr. HONDA: (Foreign language spoken)

KUHN: The tatami mat just went up and floated around, he said. Everything just floated up.

Back at city hall, residents wait in line to charge their cell phones. Everywhere there are long lines for food and fuel. Yasuji Chiba of Kesennuma's emergency management center is busy trying to account for each of the city's roughly 75,000 inhabitants.

Mr. YASUJI CHIBA (Emergency management center, Kesennuma): (Through translator) I don't know how many people were killed or injured, 343 people are still missing.

KUHN: Among the missing are the three other members of his own family.

Mr. CHIBA: (Through translator) I don't know if they are safe or not. I cannot reach them by phone.

KUHN: Kesennuma residents are hardly surprised at the occurrence of a tsunami. Locals can cite all the big ones of the past: 1960, 1933, 1896.

Store owner Mikako Fujita has survived four tsunamis here, but none so destructive as this one. Last Friday, she watched from her rooftop as the 30-foot-high wall of water surged towards her.

Ms. MIKAKO FUJITA: (Through translator) This time the speed was so different. It was much faster. It came with a mighty whoosh.

(Soundbite of hammering)

KUHN: Nearby, Hideki Shimada is piecing his kimono shop back together. Things are bad here, he says, but he feels there's nowhere else to go.

Mr. HIDEKI SHIMADA: (Through translator) This could happen anywhere in Japan -Tokyo, Osaka. An earthquake could strike any of these places. The whole island of Japan is a nest of earthquakes.

KUHN: Earthquakes and tsunamis are a part of the scene here, just like the mackerel pike and the bonito. All folks can do about it is rebuild from this tsunami and begin preparing for the next one.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Kesennuma.

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