Mr. & Mrs. Abe Story of Survival - K38 Disaster Area Tour22 Nov 2013
- Visit the site they landed with Mr. and Mrs. Abe
- Visit their old office and home location
- Visit the Middle School
- Showing us the rock that saved their lives
- Showing us the canal his cousins and family members were found it
- Visiting the train station
- Saying goodbye
- Onto the Elementary School
- Onto the Disaster Building that had 30 people where only 10 survived
- 1.We visit the next town that burned with fire.
- 2.Our hotel owners were involved in the tsunami. The woman here was on a building with 30 people and the Coast Guard; they survived 3 days in that building.
- 3.The hotels first floor was inundated by the flood, but the wall outside protected the building from beingIt was built by his grandfather and is 60 years old. Built with Cherry trees logs, traditional style and build with handiwork of craftsman. It is an architectural beauty.
- 4.We walk through the town and see all the open vacant spaces. The ‘O’ sprayed on the searched buildings still shines in bold
- 5.New towns are being constructed on top of hills that are being razed and leveled for new home
- 6.There is construction everywhere, big heavy machinery is working on repairing infrastructure needs, roads, bridges and tearing down old buildings and structures.
K38 JAPAN DISASTER AREA TOUR - THE ABE SURVIVAL STORY
We meet up with our K38 Japan instructors and continue onward after our hello. I saw the black Toyota truck pull alongside and Mr. Kishi gets out. We arrive at their parking lot at Asahi Diving Works, the facility is new and it is inland. A very organized business stands before me, with a large office and meeting table. The Abe’s are warm people. They are gracious. His wife Shimako and his name is Jun. He greets me with an open arm policy LOL. I feel like I came home. I liked these people. Shimako is wearing shirt emblazoned with the word: POTENTIAL
There is a third man. He looks to be a proud man. He is strong. He is a hardworking man. A bit more reserved, but interested. He was the fireman who responded to the tsunami, but their fire truck was lost in the waters. His name is Kojima Takayuki. He worked on a water rescue crew of 4, and he was on a boat in the water doing rescues, but having great difficulty with the debris. I think this man and his crew are another one of the miracles of the Tohoku tsunami water rescue responses. We find out later he worked with Mr. Imazaki. He tells us his story, I take notes intently focusing on the lessons learned.
We were given permission to videotape. I set three cameras in motion. Hiroshi begins the discussion and translations on my behalf. It is animated and with deep passion. Everyone listens intently to Mr. Abe’s story. His wife and the fireman sit behind him.
What am I feeling? I am feeling the same emotions I had after Katrina, after 100’ Wednesday, after Masahito’s vehicle fire, how utterly personal tragedy is. How only one’s own eyes and soul can know and to put words to it doesn’t bring back the horrors and what you realize in those moments to be more true than storytelling. That nature itself is in control of all life and we are only one of the sparks that get ignited and we can be extinguished and it’s far beyond our control. That insignificant feeling of survival.
What did the Abe’s do right I ask myself? I am trying to discover something unique or different in their story of survival. I am looking for consistent behaviors. I have found them in my own stories and I am searching for theirs. When they tell their story there are a few things that come to mind.
Opportunities were present at every turn and in motion with the forces of action the keep moving forward. Those one second differences could have been contributors, where only that small window was opened and they did not hesitate to try, and they paid a price for each movement. For they would become pieces of their experience, and in their mind they were not sure if they would survive, they prayed and held on.
They were on the street when the tsunami came ashore, Mr. Abe ran to the house and Mrs. Abe to the office. The waters swarmed the buildings and the two buildings were shorn off their foundations. The two corners to both buildings swung into one another and Mr. Abe reached out his hand to his wife and shouted to her to grab his hand, they only had one chance to be together. This is where he questioned if this was miracle. And the miracle was taking place at the moment of decision. His wife leapt and they were together surrounded by their home. This refuge would not last long, in a matter of seconds everything changed around them. They were now floating free with the incoming surge; pushed up over the backdrop of the rocky pinnacle the surging waters drew the remnants of their dwelling into the river mouth. The river bed itself acted like a sieve sucking the water into its channel framework. The open channel created a fast drawing flue for the tsunami waters to surge inland rapidly.
As the buildings were crushing against another, the walls began to blow apart, Mr. Abe grabbed two orange survival suits and told his wife to put it on, at least if they died their bodies would be found because they would float on the surface and the color was high visibility. The two of them put their suits on. Soon the walls were gone, their house had disappeared and they remained on a section of the floor floating like on a life raft. The tsunami waters were drawing them down the river at 25 mph. Debris was crushing them from all sides and they were trapped in the contagious flow.
A bridge loomed ahead and Mr. Abe and Mrs. Abe were pushed by the water into the bridge abutment with full force of the fury and this is where Mr. Abe was injured. He was thrown into the water, and crushed, he did not know it now but he had broken ribs. He had a cut on his head and a bad concussion, and lacerations on his arm. He was in the water and his wife lunged to grab ahold of him. They slammed under the bridge, Mr. Abe unconscious as his wife held onto him. His zipper had opened and he had taken on water inside his suit. Soon this would cause him to reduce his body temperature.
Mr. Abe shows us the area that he and his wife stopped and got out of the river
Mrs. Abe was emailing here children when they were floating away saying goodbye to them. She was reaching out to them to give them assurance and let them know how much they were loved. She thought this would give them some support knowing what happened to their parents.
His wife and Mr. Abe manage to get him back onto of the floating floor which is their life raft now. They are moving faster down the river, traveling up to 7 km inland. They have another bridge coming ahead with a very low clearance. They pray together saying ‘God will save us’. As the near this bridge, Mrs. Abe pushes Mr. Abe’s head down right before they hit the bridge. They make it through the other side and have passed through that test and not sure how that happened, as more challenge lay ahead.
Mr Abe shows us where his house was in relationship to his business and tracking of the River postion
Mr. Abe played the video of his wife and himself floating back upstream on a significant debris pile. We can see the Abe’s standing up wearing their international orange survival suits hugging one another as they float quickly by the camera’s view. The videographer was at their house, which Mr. Abe pointed out on our drive to his old property, that they were filming and wondering how the river was running backwards and what was all this debris floating by. They were shocked and confused. The Abe’s were whisked miles upstream in a reverse flood position where the river would usually flow to the sea. The outlet previous had a large sand bar at its entrance, after the tsunami, that was removed and the river was open. Dredging and seawall construction were ongoing everywhere. Large cranes and heavy machinery again dotted the view like in most coastal towns. The sign near the river embankment showed the height of the tsunami waters.
Mr. Abe was later transported to the hospital for medical care. Mr. Abe keeps his wife’s survival suit in their business garage. It was hanging on the back wall with the date on the rack clearly in sight. The business is as professional as they come. They have the finest tools and technology. Mr. Abe is a diver by trade, an educator and a lifesaver. He has every piece of equipment you would dream about if you were in this business. He knows his stuff, and is quite impressive, along with a strong personality he has done a lot of other types of recovery work post tsunami.
Jun is showing us the berm that has the row of tall Pine trees growing in front of the beach. He demonstrated the height of the waters and the surrounding terrain how the water hit and pooled and created large eddies and current vectors in this plain area up against the low lying hills. He has taken time to seriously think about all the defining characteristics and the fight for survival. His business cannot be rebuilt in this area, and they moved inland to a safer region. The two large rocks that were at the entrance to his business remain in place along with several curbs and foundations in a once thriving waterfront community.
We visit several sights in the area. I look over at Jun as he looks our the vehicle window. He still has that look of awe in his eyes shining. I know what that is, I too have caught myself staring into the past. I know that today he and his wife had to relive every agonizing moment of that day. They lost family members of their own, their neighbors and colleagues. Their lives are rooted in this community, and they will never be the same. But they have taken a tragic situation and turned it around for the greater good of humanity. The Abe’s are active in global outreach to edcuated youth and adults about water survival if they are immersed in the ocean, a river or a lake. Mr. Abe feels strongly compelled to support water safety education and teachines this in Japan and abroad. His passion is a motivating driving force of change.
We drive over to a Middle School to review the damage; the landscape is stark and bleak. Debris has been cleared but the remains of the building stand strong having withstood the surges that applied themselves repeatedly at this location up against a small hill. As we drive patches of the roadway are missing from being undercut from the currents. The telltale signs are everywhere, we are walking amongst the shadows of a significant earth event and everything has shifted back to normal.
We head to the local train station. I inspect the surrounded buildings. Many of them still have the tsunami debris cast amongst their carcasses, stopped in time. These gigantic strainers were death traps for any unsuspecting soul who found themselves heading for one of these traps. The smells have subsided but the stories are alive. We wait for a train that will never arrive.
We say our heartfelt goodbyes. There was such a powerful presence of positive energy given by the Abe’s. They are truly heroes in their response to turning their tragedy into the hopes of saving future lives. I have an extreme amount of respect for this amazing couple.
Day Two Journey to the Following:
I pass all these buildings and I recognize them from YouTube videos I studied. Everything comes alive and is connected. I can visualize in my mind the torrents that passed through these areas.
K38 Japan's Disaster area tour of certain areas that were impacted by the Tohoku tsunami in conjunction with K38 Japan instructors and K38 Founder Shawn Alladio. The disaster area tour covered 3 days and multiple cities with interviews from survivors and responders specific to each disaster area.
The tour was followed up with a Disaster Management training program for instructor development and K38 Open Water Rescue Course for Japanese water rescue specialists.
Dates: October 21-November 1st, 2013