Loop PNG visited the city this week as part of the Pacific-Caribbean Journalists Program organised by the Association for Promotion of International Cooperation and the Foreign Press Center Japan.
Ishinomaki is the major city of northeast Miyagi Prefecture located at the mouth of the Kitakami River which is the biggest river in northern Japan.
The earthquake and tsunami caused disastrous damage to the city, leaving a permanent scar on both the city and the minds of its residents.
During the tsunami, 73km square area was flooded and all of the city centre and 13 percent of the whole city area was submerged.
From reports collected at that time, 20,036 buildings were totally destroyed, 13,045 were half destroyed and 23,615 partially destroyed making a total of 56,696 damaged buildings.
In this area, 3,176 were reported dead and 425 missing persons. More than 20,000 people were killed by the earthquake and tsunami.
Today, people are slowly getting their lives back together but are still devastated about what happened.
In December 2011, nine months after the tsunami, Ishinomaki authorised its Basic Reconstruction Plan laying out the way to recovery over the next 10 years.
This plan describes the basic reconstruction principals, rebuilding policy steps, and each district’s reorganisation guideline.
Policies include working together to create a disaster resilient town and eliminating the anxieties of citizens and returning to normal life.
A community center provides local residents and visitors’ information and education on the progress of ongoing reconstruction efforts in the city so that they can disseminate this information to an even wider audience.
Director of the Ishinomaki Community and Information Center Richard Halberstadt highlighted that the city is finally getting back onto its feet however people are still traumatised and devastated.
Halberstadt is a British citizen and longtime resident who decided to remain in Ishinomaki and help with the recovery when many foreigners decided to return to their home countries.
He explained that many people still undergo counseling because it still affects them until today as many of them have lost loved ones during the disaster.
“Every time people talk about what happened and remember the day they get so emotional.
“It was definitely a traumatic experience for everyone and it is worse for those who lost family members.
“I also lost my best friend during the tsunami and it’s still hard to believe that it happened,” Halberstadt said with tears in his eyes.
Halberstadt confirmed that close to 10 apartment buildings have been built with over 30,000 people who lost their homes during the tsunami are now able to settle in.
The coastal area where the tsunami hit hardest will no longer be used as residential area but will be turned into a park.
A flood wall of up to seven meters high will be built along the coastline.
A new hospital replacing the one that was damaged by the tsunami was built at a much safer location and it was opened last month.