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On Japan's Coast, A Search For Relatives And Relief

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On Japan's Coast, A Search For Relatives And Relief

On Japan's Coast, A Search For Relatives And Relief

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

NPR's John Burnett reports from the former seaside resort of Takata, where at least one in 10 residents is dead or missing.

(SOUNDBITE OF VEHICLES)

JOHN BURNETT: Kiyoshi Osaka would have been 101 years old next month. She enjoyed haiku and sewing. They found her body, as her son had predicted, close to her favorite recliner. The body of his sister, Junco, was found close by because she would have tried to save her wheelchair-bound mother, as the great wave swept inland and engulfed their two-story brick home.

NORIAKI OSAKA: (Japanese language spoken)

BURNETT: Kiyoshi and Junco Osaka become victims numbers 650 and 651 brought here to the gymnasium of Yahagi Junior High School. It's one of four body collection centers in Takata.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOOR)

BURNETT: Relatives go in and come out. A 66-year-old housewife named Takuko Konno emerges.

TAKUKO KONNO: (Japanese language spoken)

BURNETT: She has found the bodies of her nephew and his wife inside the gym. But Konno's sister and daughter are still missing. She's most distressed about her daughter, who took refuge in a seaside civic center that was gutted by the rushing waters. Konno has gone from place to place looking for her daughter's body. She will continue checking.

KONNO: (Japanese language spoken)

BURNETT: The Japan Self-Defense Force Coast Guard is using helicopters to search the sea for bodies. The ground Self-Defense Force has been put in charge of collecting the dead onshore. But in practice, the task is so huge that everyone is pitching in; neighbors, police, volunteer firemen and professional firemen. They generally rely on heavy equipment.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEAVY MACHINERY)

BURNETT: Standing at a table with binoculars and a two-way radio, like a general surveying the battlefield, is Shinpai Kurihara. He's fire chief of a prefecture near Tokyo that has been assigned to Takata.

SHINPAI KURIHARA: (Through Translator) We insist we're still doing rescue, because lots of peoples' loved ones are missing, and if there's a one in a million chance, we want to rescue someone alive. If the person is found dead, we will treat the body with respect as much as possible.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEAVY MACHINERY)

BURNETT: The steel claw tears into the carved stonework on the roof of a lovely historic house that was torn off its foundation by the tsunami. The owner watches sadly from the highway.

HIDEHIKO IWASAKI: (Through Translator) This is 300 years old.

BURNETT: Is it his house?

IWASAKI: (Through Translator) His house.

BURNETT: John Burnett, NPR News, in northeast Japan.

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