ONAGAWA, Miyagi Pref. (Kyodo) From a pile of debris over 10 meters high, the body of Junko Sato was carefully removed by an Indian rescue and relief team Saturday in the tsunami-hit town of Onagawa, Miyagi Prefecture. Her son Yukiyoshi, 38, cried out at the sight of her, “Sorry, Mom, sorry I left you.”
The 46-member National Disaster Response Force from India, which arrived for its first relief operation abroad on March 28, has taken charge of the search for missing people in the town as well as recovery of bodies and clearing away of debris.
The team’s leader, Commandant Alok Avasthy, said that while it was too late for the group to save people’s lives, it had many tasks ahead of it. “After seeing the devastation caused by the earthquake and the tsunami there’s still a lot of work to be done,” he said.
The March 11 tsunami, spawned by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake, bullied its way about a kilometer inland from the port of Onagawa, destroying the center of the town and leaving more than 1,000 people dead or missing from its population of about 10,000.
The team was able to recover 59-year-old Sato’s body in the Aratate district after Taichi Watanabe, 26, and three other volunteer interpreters discovered that her son had been continuously searching for her and his 87-year-old grandfather, Keiji Ishimori, in the area.
Avasthy, 41, ordered his men to comb through the pile of debris identified by Yukiyoshi.
Yukiyoshi said his mother’s cry for help as she was being washed away by the tsunami still rings in his ears.
“Even if I’m tired and ready to go to sleep, I wake up recalling my mother’s cry for help,” he said. He also remembers her arm reaching out of the water in a desperate attempt to grab ahold of something, the last sight he had of her alive.
India set up the NDRF in 2005 after the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. The force has 10 battalions around India, each with about 1,000 members.
“As India’s presence in the international community has become larger due to its economic growth, it also has begun to be active in international contributions,” a Japanese official said.
Inspector Ajay Kumar, a member of the team who spent 2 1/2 months doing relief work during the Indian Ocean disaster, said the team is well trained and dedicated to dealing with natural, chemical, nuclear and biological disasters.
But nothing they trained for prepared them for what they’ve been seeing in Japan.
“So many devastations came in one moment, it was an unbelievable phenomenon, a mega-disaster” said Kumar, referring to the quake and tsunami that have left over 27,000 people dead or missing in northeastern and eastern Japan.
The Indian government has given Japan 25,000 blankets and 13,000 bottles of water, and is one of the 23 countries and regions that have dispatched rescue teams or experts to deal with both the natural disaster and the nuclear crisis in Fukushima Prefecture, the Foreign Ministry said.
The Indian team, which had recovered five bodies as of Saturday, is scheduled to wrap up its relief operation Wednesday.
“I can’t express what I am seeing. We underwent training for this . . . but all the scenes (here) are unique, beyond imagination,” said Avasthy, who has a 17-year career in the field.
“Japan is a dedicated, disciplined country, sincere country. They have proved (so) previously. I am 100 percent sure (the Japanese people) will make those cities even more beautiful cities, very early, very early, of that I am sure,” he said.
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