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One month after the tsunami

This is the first part of an open ended series to document the recovery of the tsunami hit coast of northeastern Japan, where approximately 20,000 people died and entire towns were destroyed in the afternoon of March 11, 2011. We hope to contribute to keep the region from sinking into oblivion, as the international media has been devoting most of its attention to the nuclear accident instead, and to document the region's reemergence as an attractive tourist destination.

On April 28 and 30, we visited several of the worst hit towns and cities along the Sanriku Coast, which spans Miyagi, Iwate and Aomori Prefectures. We plan to revisit the region regularly every six to twelve months from now in order to document its recovery.

One and a half months after the March 11 disaster, good progress has been made on clearing major roads, recovering victims and reinstating the food supply. The self defense force and police from all over the country were omnipresent, working hard on the initial steps towards recovery.

But clean up efforts on the hundreds of kilometers of coastline, that are covered in cars, ships, wood, personal items and debris, have only just started. Many districts also still lacked electricity and water supply, and only a few businesses have reopened in the affected areas. A strong smell of foul seafood hang over many of the fishing towns.

Our first destination was Ishinomaki City, where over 5000 people lost their lives and over 20,000 homes were completely destroyed - more than in any other municipality.

Our next stop was Minamisanriku, a particularly badly hit town along the coast. Tsunami waves of over ten meters destroyed virtually the entire town center, claiming over one thousand lives.

Next we visited Kesennuma further up the coast. Around 2000 people lost their lives here when the tsunami destroyed entire city districts.

After crossing the border from Miyagi into Iwate Prefecture, we visited Rikuzentakata. Like Minamisanriku further south, the city center of Rikuzentakata was completely destroyed by tsunami waves that submerged even three storied buildings. Over two thousand people lost their lives, and close to 4000 homes were destroyed.

We continued further north to the industrial port town of Kamaishi where the tsunami claimed over a thousand lives and close to 4,000 homes.

We concluded our first visit to the Sanriku Coast in Miyako City where the tsunami killed one thousand people and destroyed nearly 5,000 homes.