They showed us lots of pictures from 3-11. Even though we showed up to their house all of a sudden, they kindly greeted us in and gave us lots of refreshments.
Abe-san lives with his wife and daughter, his parents, and his aunt, total of 6 people. On 3-11, he came home from work after giving rides to 3 of his coworkers, his parents were just about to leave in their car with their neighbors before the tsunami came. When his father realized the water was getting close, he made everyone get out the car and rushed them to the 2nd floor of his house. Abe-san’s mother took shelter in their 2 story storage. While helping others, the water washed Abe-san’s father away.
Abe-san was still in the car when the tsunami reached his house. He thought he would be okay if he stayed in the car but when the water reached the windshield, he broke the side window and got on the top of the car. The water level was already around 6 feet, so he climbed to his neighbor's roof. He saw his mother in the 2nd floor of the storage so he jumped on that roof. While he was trying to get in to the storage, his mother saw his feet dangling by the window so she grabbed his legs and pulled him in. This whole thing happened in 50 minutes after the fist earthquake.
When he stood on the roof, he took a picture with his phone. "Even in a panic state like this, it was interesting how the first thing I did was to take a picture. Human beings are strange. I'm a smoker. And when I was getting out the car, I was rushing to escape since the car was starting to sink, but I remembered to grab my cigarettes and lighter. Why cigarettes in a life/death situation? I don't know. But this saved me and my mother's life. Since it was freezing and I was soaking wet, we decided to burn anything we can find in the storage. If we didn't have that lighter, I don't know what would've happened.We were very lucky."
And then he spoke reservedly "But to say that lucky… that would be impolite to those who lost their lives from the tsunami. But like the lighter, as a coincidence we had food and water in the storage. My mother likes to pick apples and she stored lots of apples to make jam later on. All the stuff that was prepared for disaster was still in the car that already sank. So we were blessed to have food, water, and fire."
"The next day, My father paddled his way back floating on a log, like a surfer. It was great to have him back. But I still wasn't able to reach my wife, daughter, or aunt for 5 days."
'There was no reception so I couldn't call. I knew that worrying about won't take me anywhere so I tried not to think about it. But those 5 days… it was the hardest 5 days of my life." I could see tears coming out of his eyes as he was sharing his story and I tried really hard to hold back my own tears.
Th next day, Abe-san went looking for his wife and daughter. The water level was still high, and it was very cold outside. He was trying to stay dry but once he was wet, it didn't really matter. "When I returned back, I was so cold, so I just wrapped my body with anything I could find, even plastic bags."
5 days after the tsunami, he thought "If they're alive, they'd be by the bank by the river near by." So he walked around the bank back and forth all day. Then he finally got to reunite with his wife and daughter. His aunt was in the care of the care center for the seniors on the day of the earthquake, and the center was not affected by the tsunami. "To know that all of my family is still alive was just a blessing."
After reuniting with his family, they all stayed at the emergency evacuation area for 5 days. Since people were starting to get sick, they decided they couldn't stay there anymore. His sister's workplace said they had an open apartment so they stayed there for a while. "We were lucky once again, because though our 3 cars were washed away in the tsunami, we still had one more car that my daughter took to her work. If we didn't have that car, we wouldn't have had any way to get to that apartment"
A slight mark of the water line still exist on the window glass by the front door. "We decided to keep this here, so we won't forget." He said he's very thankful for the volunteers. "After the tsunami, my workplace decided to start up again and thankfully I was able to go back to work. But I watched the volunteers everyday, knowing that they're not getting paid to do all this work. If I go to work, I'll get paid. I felt guilty going to work but my family needs money. I felt veryguilty. My job didn't pay me for the first 2 months but after that, thankfully I was able to get paid.
Abe-san says "Since the house was damaged so much, I was planning on relocating to an apartment on another part of town. So my wife and daughter and I moved to an apartment. But my dad repaired the house." And then he smirks, "This is actually a restricted reconstruction zone. The government doesn't want us to reconstruct the homes because there is a possibility that this could happen again. We have to move eventually but this is a house that my father worked hard for. If he's not causing anyone trouble, I figured he could stay here. We have to think about it later when the time comes, but we'll just live for now. "
When we asked Abe-san's mother how life has changed after the tsunami, she started to talk very quietly. "Before the tsunami, we all lived together. I've watched my grandmother grow old with me and my husband and kids, so I thought I would be able to do the same, live with my child and his child. That was my dream. After the tsunami, my son, his wife, and my grandchild moved away. It's very lonely compared to when it was a full house. I'm still hoping that some day, we'll be able to be together again."
As we were leaving, Abe-san said "Thank you so much for visiting. Tell everyone in the States that we are grateful of all the support. We will never give up, we will persevere.