Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan group providing warm help for victims

by Setsuko Kamiya

SAGAMIHARA, Kanagawa Pref. — A group of Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans living in Kanagawa Prefecture has been providing warm bowls of Bangladesh curry since Monday to quake and tsunami survivors in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture.

“Everything was in ruins. A car was on top of a three-story building. Another was literally twisted. A big fishing vessel was in the center of the city. It’s really beyond description,” Saber Sakura, who organized the 25-member group, said of what he witnessed in the destroyed city.

“If the tsunami hadn’t hit, I think only 10 or 15 percent of the buildings would have been damaged,” the 47-year-old Sakura said Wednesday back in his office in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture.

Known as one of the richest fishing areas in the region, Kesennuma was hit hard by the tsunami, followed by a fire that swept through a wide area of the city. Currently, some 15,000 residents are taking shelter in 99 locations around the city.

“The tsunami hit the area only after 15 minutes of the quake. The lives of the survivors must be gifts from God,” said Sakura, president of B.J. International Co., an auto import and export business based in Sagamihara. He has lived in Japan 23 years.

Soon after the major earthquake struck, Sakura said he wanted do something right away, but he was initially busy helping Bangladeshi exchange students studying at Tohoku University in Sendai return to their home country.

Finally, after gathering the necessary supplies, Sakura and his wife, Suma, 33, and their local Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan friends left Sagamihara on Sunday evening. They loaded up two cars, a minivan and a 2-ton truck with supplies, including 700 kg of rice, 400 kg of meat and boxes of diapers, snacks and medication.

They drove eight straight hours to Kesennuma on the Tohoku Expressway. Upon their departure, Sakura obtained an emergency permit from the Kanagawa police that is required to use the expressway during the crisis.

“Driving through Fukushima Prefecture was scary because of the radiation. We closed all the windows, stopped the heater to prevent outside air from coming in. It was very dark, and we were the only cars driving,” Sakura said, adding he was impressed to see the Tohoku Expressway was barely damaged.

The group went to Kesennuma City Hall and obtained information and instructions on where they should go. Before returning to Kanagawa Prefecture the next day, Sakura visited three different shelters and offered curry rice for 500 people at each one. Others from the group are still in the area continuing to offer curry.

“Most people only had miso soup as something warm to eat, so we’re glad that they were able to eat warm curry,” said Suma Sakura, who runs a curry restaurant in the Asakusa district in Taito Ward, Tokyo.

“Japan is a good friend to Bangladesh, and Japanese have always supported us when help was in need. And now, I wanted to do my part to support Japanese,” Sakura said.