JAKARTA – The mayor of a small city devastated by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami traveled to Indonesia this month to brief President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on the progress of the recovery effort.
“I came here to report to the president about the recovery process in Miyagi Prefecture, particularly in Kesennuma as a followup of the president and first lady Ani Yudhoyono’s visit to Kesennuma on June 18, 2011,” Shigeru Sugawara told a news conference after his 40-minute meeting Nov. 12 with the president.
“About 11,000 people still live in temporary housing and they represent one-sixth of the Kesennuma residents,” the mayor of the city in disaster-ravaged Tohoku said.
“But we are now rebuilding 2,200 houses and developing residential land for 1,090 new houses,” Sugawara said. “Our target is to complete the reconstruction and development by March 2016.”
In Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, which were most affected by the disasters, many people continue to live in temporary housing due to a lack of financial resources and delays in the development of residential land for new housing.
Shortly after the disasters struck on March 11, 2011, Indonesia dispatched a rescue team to Kesennuma and other cities in Miyagi Prefecture, provided relief supplies and donated $2 million to support the victims.
“Today, we reported that we will use the $2 million donation to establish a community center, consisting of a library for children and a children’s hall, that will belong to the Kesennuma authorities,” Sugawara said.
“We’ve asked the president whether we can name the children’s hall after him and we’re very happy because he allowed us to call it the Yudhoyono Friendship Hall.”
The mayor also thanked the president for the Indonesian souvenirs the Kesennuma community received back in 2011.
“When the president visited Kesennuma, he gave many ‘angklung’ to Kesennuma’s children, but at that time we had lost everything, so we could not give anything in return to the president and first lady Ani Yudhoyono,” he said.
The angklung is a traditional musical instrument from Indonesia’s West Java province made of two bamboo tubes attached to a bamboo frame.
Sugawara showed his gratitude to the president by presenting him with Japanese souvenirs — a fishing boat flag and two traditional winter coats.
“We made a special flag for the president to express our gratitude,” Sugawara said, explaining that such flags are used as good-luck charms by the fishermen in Kesennuma.
The coats, he said, are traditionally worn by Japanese fishermen.
“We took a picture when the president was wearing the coat and we are sure that the Kesennuma people will be happy to see the picture and feel honored,” he said.
As Kesennuma is famous for its tuna port, and many Indonesians work on Japanese fishing boats as crew members, Sugawara asked Yudhoyono to name an Indonesian to serve as an officer, not just as a crew member, on a Japanese ship.
The fishery industry in Kesennuma was also badly damaged by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
On Nov. 13, Sugawara and his entourage paid a visit to Banda Aceh, the capital of northernmost Aceh province, to learn about reconstruction measures taken by the region that was devastated by the Boxing Day earthquake and tsunami disaster of 2004, which left about 180,000 people dead in Aceh alone.
Ending his visit to Indonesia on Nov. 14, Sugawara flew to Bali to visit Benoa port in the southern part of the island, which many tuna boats from Kesennuma use as an anchorage.
The Great East Japan Earthquake killed 15,883 people and left 2,651 others missing across 20 prefectures, according to the official tally compiled by the National Police Agency as of Nov. 4.
Residents of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures account for 99.6 percent of the dead and missing.