Wednesday, March 23, 2011

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From one historic disaster scene in their own homeland, to travel forward to another disaster of epic proportions in a far away foreign land, Kiwi rescue teams are simply overcome by events. The following report tells a brief yet compelling story. Spread the word; the devastation from the tsunamis in Japan eclipses that of any war damage. - S.L.



Thoughts of home and a warm bed crept into Palmerston North firefighter Graeme Mills' mind as he lay inside a tent at a Japanese baseball field with the temperature at minus 17 degrees.

It was so cold the water in his drinking bottle froze, but the freezing conditions were nothing compared to the devastation outside.

Mr Mills was part of a 42-member urban search and rescue team sent to Japan after the earthquake and tsunami.

After co-ordinating search and rescue efforts in Christchurch for nearly three weeks because of the big Canterbury earthquake last month, Mr Mills flew out to Japan on March 14.

The USAR team were not concerned about contamination as they were 160 kilometres away from the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant, and were constantly updated about the radiation situation.

The more pressing issue was the lack of food, water and power.

Fuel was also hard to come by, but the team managed to get enough by swapping water and clothes with a local garage owner.

Mr Mills was taken aback by the level of destruction in Shizugawa.

"A four-storey school, which was sort of in the middle of the bay, was the only building left standing and that had a mussel farm wrapped right round the top of [it]."

Even areas of higher ground, some nearly 5km from the coast, were not spared the waves' wrath.

"The tsunami had gone up the main valley. You drove round a load of houses and you came around a corner and `boof', there it was right in front you, just debris for miles."

"Everything had gone. I reckon [the waves] would have been a good 50 to 60 metres high – unbelievable."

Though the town's population was small, there were still about 1200 people reported missing. But only a handful of bodies were recovered while the USAR team was there.

"We found one body, a young kiddie, probably eight years old, and she was up a tree. It was pretty plain to see that, where we were, there was not going to be any survivors.

"There could have been a lot more bodies under huge piles of debris and you needed heavy machinery so you could get through it, and there was none of that there.

"On the second to last day they said that if we find any victims... just mark them and leave them because I think they were overloaded and probably didn't have space in the morgues."

The team were pulled from Japan after they came to the realisation there was little more they could do.

A "knackered" Mr Mills arrived home on Sunday, along with four other Manawatu USAR members.

Mr Mills is now on a compulsory leave for eight days, where he is catching up on some much-needed rest.

"I'm pretty wrung out from the whole thing and it's going to take a few days to get back into it."

Read the entire story HERE


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