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Tears Of Loss, Joy Are Common In Kamaishi, Japan

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Tears Of Loss, Joy Are Common In Kamaishi, Japan

Tears Of Loss, Joy Are Common In Kamaishi, Japan

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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And let's turn now to the other big story we're following - the aftermath of Japan's tsunami. There was one piece of good news yesterday. An 80-year-old grandmother and her 16-year-old grandson were pulled alive from a house in the north of the country after more than a week in the rubble. They'd been trapped in the kitchen and had apparently survived by eating yogurt.

Northeastern Japan is still struggling to cope, though they are finding stories of hope.

NPR's Rob Gifford is in the coastal town of Kamaishi.

ROB GIFFORD: In just about every town that we've come into, we'll be walking along the sidewalk in amongst the debris, as we are here in Kamaishi, and there'll be three, four, five military personnel coming out of a building like these guys right in front of us here. They've got a stretcher, and they've got a blue body bag, another body found, putting into the makeshift ambulance here and driving it off to the makeshift morgue. And those morgues, and the hospitals - in fact, all public services - are completely overwhelmed still here. And we're just going round the corner in fact to meet some people at the local hospital.

(Soundbite of generator)

GIFFORD: The generator is now working here at the Kamaishi Nozomi Hospital, but they had seven days without electricity, caring for their patients by flashlight in the freezing cold.

Ms. YUKO OGASAWARA (Nurse): (Foreign language spoken)

GIFFORD: Nurse Yuko Ogasawara comforts a woman in her 80s who's stretched on a mattress on the floor. There's no heating in the ward, and the woman, who has Alzheimer's disease, is distressed.

Ms. OGASAWARA: (Foreign language spoken)

GIFFORD: The nurse says all the staff have worked round the clock, sleeping at the hospital since the tsunami struck 10 days ago. The hospital itself is set back from the waterfront, at the bottom of a hill, and still staff watched in disbelief as the wave, which wiped out much of Kamaishi, swept into the first floor of the building. Staff and patients took refuge on the upper floors and mercifully it came no higher.

Dr. Kazunori Ogasawara sits slumped in a chair in the staff room, his stethoscope draped over a large down jacket.

Dr. KAZUNORI OGASAWARA: (Through translator) We need more food, and we need more drips and saline for patients. Unless we get more supplies and change this situation, they'll become weaker and weaker. Since there's no heating, they're catching pneumonia.

(Soundbite of footsteps)

GIFFORD: Up the dank, echoey stairwell on a higher floor, two women stand embracing, one of them in the white coat of a hospital nurse. They stand for several minutes, neither of them moving, just holding on to each other. Turn any corner in this town and you come across such scenes, someone finding, or losing, a loved one. Tears of joy and grief are the same color and you can't always tell which it is.

Ms. JUN TAMATA (Foreign language spoken)

GIFFORD: I was so worried, says 35-year-old Jun Tamata. I just prayed that if she was here at the hospital, that she'd survived on an upper floor. She'd been texting her friend for days, but there was no cell phone reception in this part of town until today, so her friend, Motomi Miura, whom she'd known since high school, couldn't reply.

Ms. MOTOMI MIURA: (Foreign language spoken)

GIFFORD: It was like a movie, says Motomi. Like that movie "Independence Day." I honestly couldn't tell if it was real or not. We just watched it happen from above. Motomi says she thought her friend was dead too. She herself was too busy for three days searching for her own child, who eventually she did find. Now they embrace again, and again they don't let go.

A small reunion in a small hospital in a small town of Northern Japan, but for two people, a huge reconnection. The earthquake and the tsunami ripped the earth open here and tore its people apart. Now, painfully, tenderly, and very, very slowly, they're just starting to come back together.

Robb Gifford, NPR News, Kamaishi, Northern Japan.

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