The discovery Tuesday of more bodies by the Japan Self-Defense Force added evidence to support a conclusion that survivors here still desperately hope is wrong — that most of those who vanished Friday are dead. That would mean that more than half of Onagawa’s population of fishermen, cannery workers, tour guides, bureaucrats, Pachinko parlor staff and others perished.
Yoshio Kimura, a 74-year-old widower who survived by making it up a hill near his home, hasn’t heard word of his neighbors since Friday, not the fisherman who lived on one side of him or the pharmacist and his staff who ran a shop on the other. He said he thinks he saw the pharmacist running away but isn’t sure. “I saw lots of people running. I hope they’re okay, but I haven’t seen any of them since,” he said.
Unlike Kimura, the neighbors haven’t returned to Lane 398 to dig through their flattened wooden homes in search of cherished mementos. Nor have they turned up at a sports hall where Kimura and many other survivors now shelter, living on increasingly meager rations of instant noodles and bony fish.
Onagawa’s numbing misery began with Friday’s 9.0-magnitude earthquake out at sea but was then amplified by its topography: Steep hills on either side of town funneled the tsunami into the main business and residential district, pushing the wave to more than three times the height seen elsewhere. It arrived, recalled Kimura, with a rage-filled roar that “sounded like nothing else I’ve ever heard.”
But at least it spared a nearby nuclear power plant, which has had some trouble but avoided the mayhem at a six-reactor complex down the coast.
To reclaim the world stolen by this gigantic wave, Kimura wrote his name on a wooden stake and stuck it in the ground to mark a pile of rubble as his home. Mumbling to himself, he smacked at the ruins with a cooking knife, hoping to conjure up at least some small physical connection with his previous life. All he’s retrieved is a small jar of mushrooms.
In all, soldiers have found more than 100 corpses in Onagawa — 30 Sunday, 50 Monday and 24 by mid-afternoon Tuesday. Each body gets wrapped in a dirty blanket, tagged on the ankle with a “corpse ticket” by a local official and then driven to a makeshift morgue. The smell of flesh is masked by the stronger stench of rotting fish, which, left behind by the tsunami, carpet the devastation. Fishing nets, once the lifeline of the economy, dangle in knotted skeins from pine trees on surrounding hills.