Kyodan Delegation Visits Stricken Area Two Days after the Quake

On March 12, the day after the recent massive earthquake, the Kyodan’s Relief Planning Committee, headed by General Secretary Naito, decided to send to the stricken area a delegation of four persons: Kyodan Moderator Ishibashi Hideo, Exective Secretary Fujimori Yuki, Exective Secretary Kato Makoto, and Morita Kyoichiro, a member of the Committee on Social Concerns. Their main purpose was to visit the affected churches to gather information about people’s safety, damage, and casualties; to deliver some relief items; and if possible, to discuss with the moderators of Ou and Tohoku district plans for dealing with the crisis situation.
Early Sunday morning, March 13, we left Saitama and Tokyo in two cars. Deciding to enter Sendai from the Japan Sea coast to avoid Fukushima nuclear power station #1, due to its serious condition, we first aimed for Niigata. We attended Sunday service at Tokamachi Church, one of the bases for relief operations after the Niigata Chuetsu-oki Earthquake, and received advice from Pastor Arai Jun. We left quickly with relief items purchased at a local supermarket, entered Sendai via Niigata and Yamagata, and arrived at 10 p.m. at Sendai-Higashi-Rokubancho Church, pastored by Tohoku District Moderator Takahashi Kazuto. Although the water and electricity were both cut off, some young men in the area on a trip had taken shelter at the church via an evacuation site. That night we moved to Tohoku District Center with District Moderator Takahashi and exchanged information with the chair of the District Commission on Mission, Kataoka Etsuya. Electricity and water were both available at the district center although not in other parts of Sendai.
On Monday, March 14, we ate bananas for breakfast and headed for Sendai Kita Church with Moderator Takahashi. We saw all kinds of lines: lines of cars for gasoline; lines of people at stores; and another line of people at a park where water was available. What every line had in common was unusual silence. The Sendai-Kita Church sanctuary was exposed to the wind because two large panes of glass at the front had been broken. Pastor Konishi Nozomi agreed to be our guide as well as our driver, and we headed for the churches in the northern part of Miyagi Prefecture.
Collapsed and destroyed buildings were not so conspicuous in this area, in spite of the earthquake. However, some collapsed houses were visible around Rikuzen-Furukawa Church, pastored by Seki Jun’ichi, maybe because the town is old or the ground is not very firm. The severely damaged building next to the church was tilted. The church member in charge during the pastor’s absence said that the church, being new, was not damaged but that the old church could not have withstood this earthquake.
Heading toward the area along the shore, we first visited Tajiri Church, pastored by Kokubo Tatsunosuke, which has a new building and rectory, so no particular damage was caused. However, the report from Wakuya Church, served by Iioka Yosuke, was that many staff of the day nursery and others were suffering or missing. Our cellular phones registered “no service” in the Wakuya area. We could move around by car, but people with no means of transportation must be very anxious.
We headed further toward the sea. We must have been good deal of inland, but I suddenly noticed that the roads were whitish and covered with dust from seawater, due to the tsunami. This made us conscious anew that we were in the disaster-stricken area, and we began to feel tense. Driving through a residential area of Ishinomaki City, we were prevented from going any further as the road was flooded with seawater. A signboard with the words “… Christ Church” had fallen from a white building surrounded by water. It was a church of other denomination.
Further down towards the coast in Ishinomaki City, Self-Defense Force vehicles, police cars, and fire engines were coming and going. Where restriction of entry was imposed on general vehicles, we parked the car outside the restricted area and walked to Ishinomaki-Eikou Church. As soon as we crossed a bridge over an embankment, an unbelievable scene appeared before my eyes: countless heaps of rubble and a large number of unusually positioned cars that had fallen on top of one another, some caught on utility poles and others crashed into houses and destroyed buildings –a state of devastation like a city that had suffered an explosion. Many people were walking by in silence, carrying baggage, looking like they did not know where to head. Sometimes, a voice between a scream and a shout of joy was heard. I cannot say that these persons were safe, but they surely met again alive.
There was a lot of general traffic within the regulated areas, besides emergency vehicles, and so many people were walking in the street. But it was unusually quiet. I noticed after a while that none of the moving cars, while avoiding people, ever honked. Although we saw cars running anywhere they possibly could in other stricken areas, we never heard them honk. If people walking along silently prevented cars from moving, the cars stopped and waited quietly for them. It seemed to be an unspoken rule that nobody had made and would have been impossible in daily life in an urban district.
Ishinomaki-Eikou Church, pastored by Kofuna Minoru, barely escaped being flooded with seawater above the floorboards, maybe because its base is somewhat high. We had left the relief items in a car, so I helped myself to a dolly that happened to be at the side of the church and returned to the car to fetch them. Many streets were thinly covered with mud, believed to have been carried from the sea. It was hard to keep pushing the dolly with its load, but I sometimes felt like I was being stared at by the people sitting there in silence and people carrying their belongings to the limit on their bikes. But they were all very quiet.
We borrowed a car from Kofuna, and visited Ishinomaki-Yamashirocho Church. We did not see either Suzuki Jun’ichi or his wife Pae Sun-Hee and could not find out where they were, but felt relieved when neighbors said they had certainly been safe at the time of the earthquake. Leaving a small amount of food and water at their door, we went up the hill of Hiyori-yama Park where we could view the whole city.
Looking toward the sea, we found Ishinomaki completely eroded by the tsunami, with smoke rising up from place to place. Although we have never surveyed the city before, we instinctively knew that it had been entirely transformed. A helicopter was flying up and down, probably to look for those who were missing. We could only gaze and gaze, wondering whether or not there were still any survivors somewhere in this destroyed city. (Later, on March 20, nine days after the earthquake, an 80-year-old woman and her 16-year-old grandson were found alive just a few hundred meters far from where we had stood.)
Descending Hiyori-yama hill, we saw some familiar people coming up. They were the Suzuki couple. We enjoyed the unexpected reunion, prayed together, left the hill, and went back to Ishinomaki-Eikou Church. There we were asked to take a young man, who was staying at a church member’s place, back to his home in Sendai. He had encountered the tsunami while he was driving his company’s car back to Sendai. Narrowly escaping onto the roof of a three-storied factory, he endured a freezing, snowy night there. After the water receded, he was rescued from the roof and tried to find his way home, avoiding the routes that were still under seawater. On the way, while helping people carry their luggage or deal with corpses, he came across the church member and stayed at his place.
We drove to Sendai with the young man who survived the tsunami and stopped at two churches on the way. It was already dark when we reached Shiogama-Higashi Church, where we left the last two plastic tanks of water for Pastor Tsumura Masaru. Sendai-Higashi Church opened its sanctuary as a refuge for its members and neighbors. As these people prepared their temporary beds of two benches attached together, we wondered what they were thinking. How many people were feeling helpless that night? With convoluted thoughts passing through our minds, we returned to the car. The young man succeeded in getting in touch with his company by way cellular phone, and said that he would be welcomed by his fellow workers.
Actually, on arriving at the company, he was met by the excited cries and embraces of the delighted people.
The next day, on March 15, we visited some churches in the southern part of Iwate Prefecture, but we could not visit many because of an emergency meeting scheduled at Ichinoseki Church and Iwate is so wide. Heading for Ofunato in the south, we dropped by Senmaya Church, served by pastors Mikawa Yutaka and Yaginuma Sayoko. Along the way, among the low hills from Ichinoseki to Sanriku Coast, vending machines were unexpectedly working normally and shops were open. In those areas, ordinary daily life seemed to continue.
Proceeding awhile, however, we saw a terrible view in front of us. It might have been another village among the mountains, but it had been completely destroyed by the tsunami. The railroad bridge had floated away, and the rails were distorted like candy or had disappeared altogether. We were approaching the city of Rikuzentakata, which was off limits at the time, we entered the city of Ofunato. The church sanctuary and the parsonage of Pastor Tajima Hidenori are both located on a hill near the port and are brand-new, having just been completed a year ago. According to administrative board members there as caretakers, two church members are missing, both of whom are city residents.
Near the port we found that two- or three-storied houses were upside down, and that considering the height of the pile of debris, the tsunami had been more than ten meters high. Rescue parties from many foreign countries were actively searching and rescuing, and foreign television crews were filming their activities. It was a vision of intensity and animation, but nevertheless, strangely silent and calm. There was no sound and no words spoken at all.
Coming back to Ichinoseki, the emergency tripartite meeting of Ou District Moderator Ohara Muneo, Tohoku District Moderator Takahashi Kazuto, and Kyodan Moderator Ishibashi Hideo began with prayer. Outside, the snow was beginning to fall. (Tr. SM & AY)
–Fujimori Yuki, executive secretary
藤森総幹事報告
 地震発生の翌12日、総幹事のもとに設置された「救援対策委員会」は、直ちに被災地に調査員4名(石橋秀雄教団議長、藤盛勇紀幹事、加藤誠幹事、森田恭一郎社会委員)を派遣することを決定した。主な目的は、教団として被災教会を問安、安否・被害について情報を収集し、僅かでも救援物資を運び、可能ならば奥羽、東北の教区議長と対応を協議することである。翌日曜日早朝の出発と決まった。
 13日(日)早朝、車2台でそれぞれ埼玉、東京を出発。すでに深刻な事態となっていた福島第一原発を避け、日本海側から仙台に入ることとした。まずは新潟の十日町教会を目指す。新潟中越沖地震の際に救援活動の拠点の一つとなった十日町教会で主日礼拝を守り、新井純牧師と懇談して、アドバイスも受けた。市内のスーパーで救援物資を購入し、急ぎ被災地に向かう。新潟、山形、経由で仙台に入り、仙台東六番丁教会(東北教区議長高橋和人牧師)に到着した時は夜十時を回っていた。水道、電気ともに遮断されたままだが、旅行中に地震に遭った青年らが避難所を経てここに逃れていた。
 その夜、高橋和人教区議長と共に東北教区センターへ移動。教区宣教委員長の片岡謁也牧師らと情報交換する。この東北教区センターは、仙台市内では珍しく電気・水道とも通じている。安心して水が飲め、トイレも使えるのはありがたい。
 14日(月)、朝食代わりのバナナをほおばり、高橋教区議長も同乗して仙台北教会(小西望牧師)へ向かう。仙台市内を走っていてよく見かけるのは、様々な行列だ。まず、ガソリンを求めて道路の端に並ぶ自動車の列。次に、スーパーなどの商店に並ぶ人の列。そして、水道の出る地域の公園では水汲みの行列。どの列にも共通しているのは、整然とした静けさだ。
 仙台北教会は、礼拝堂正面の高い位置にある大きなガラスが2枚ほど割れ、礼拝堂は吹き曝しとなっていた。しかしこの日、小西牧師が案内係兼運転手を引き受けてくれて、宮城県北部の教会を目指す。
 この度の震災の特徴でもあるが、巨大地震にもかかわらず、地震の揺れそのものによる建物の倒壊や損壊の被害はさほど目に付かない。ただ、陸前古川教会(関純一牧師)の周辺では、古い市街だからか地盤のせいか、倒壊家屋がいくつか見られ、教会の隣の建物もかなりのダメージを受けて傾いていた。留守を守る教会員に状況を聞くと、新しい会堂で被害はなかったが、旧会堂だったらこの地震には耐えられなかっただろうとのこと。
 沿岸地方に向かい、途中、田尻教会、涌谷教会を訪ねる。田尻教会(小久保達之佑牧師)は、新しい会堂と牧師館で、とくに被害はない。涌谷教会(飯岡洋介伝道師)では、保育園の職員、関係者の多数が被災、行方不明者があるとのこと。
 この涌谷辺りから携帯電話がつながらなくなった。「圏外」だ。私たちは車で移動しているからよいが、移動手段を持たない人の不安はいかばかりだろう。
 さらに海の方を目指す。まだかなり内陸のはずだが、ふと気づくと、道がうっすらと土埃をかぶって白っぽい。ここまで津波による海水で覆われたのだ。改めて「被災地」を意識し、にわかに緊張感が高まる。
 石巻市街に入り、住宅街の路地を抜けようとすると、行く手を阻まれた。海水で道路が冠水している。一つの白い建物が水に囲まれている。見ると、「・・・キリスト教会」と記された看板が落ちている。他教派の教会だった。
 さらに石巻市街を海岸方面へ進む。自衛隊や警察、消防の車の往来が目立ち、ついに一般車の進入が規制された。規制区域の外に車を駐め、歩いて石巻栄光教会へ向かう。
 小さな土手にかかる橋を越えると、いきなり、あり得ない光景が目に飛び込む。おびただしい瓦礫の山、どれも異常な姿勢の多数の車。折り重なり、電柱に引っかかり、家に突っ込んでいる。破壊された建物。爆撃後の街さながらの壊滅状態。
 多くの人々がどこへ向かうともなく、荷物を抱えながら、黙々と歩いている。時々、悲鳴とも歓声ともつかない声が上がる。無事と言えるのか、とにかく生きて再会したのだ。
 規制区域内でも、もちろん緊急車両は走っているし、一般の車も少なくない。道路には大勢の人も歩いている。なのに、何か静かだ。しばらくして気づいたが、人を避けながら走るどの車も、決してクラクションを鳴らさないのだ。他の被災地でも車の通れる所はどこでも車が走っているが、どこでもクラクションを鳴らすのを聞いたことがない。黙々と歩く人が車の進行を妨げれば、車も黙って待つ。誰が決めたのでもない暗黙のルール。日常の市街地ではあり得ない。
 石巻栄光教会(小鮒實牧師)は、土台が若干高いのか、辛うじて海水は床上まで襲わなかった。幼稚園舎は避難者のために開放されていた。救援物資は車に残してきたので、たまたま教会堂の脇にあった台車を借りて、物資を取りに車まで戻る。道路は、海から運ばれたと思われる泥で薄く覆われている所が多い。荷物を積み上げた台車を押すのはやっかいだが、時々、強い視線を感じる。呆然と座り込む人、自転車に限界まで荷物を積んで運ぶ人。しかし皆、静かだ。
 小鮒牧師の車をお借りし、石巻山城町教会を訪ねる。鈴木淳一牧師、裵善姫(ペーソンヒ)牧師夫妻は、地震発生時は無事が確認されていたが、その後の足取りが不明だった。しかし、夫妻は無事に帰ってることを隣家の人から聞いて一安心。少しばかりの水と食糧を玄関先に置いて、石巻の街を一望できる高台の日和山公園へ登ってみる。
 海に向かって目をやると、初めて見る石巻なのに「変わり果てた街」だと分かる。津波に嘗め尽くされ、所々、煙も立ち上っている。捜索だろうか、ヘリコプターが昇降している。この壊滅した街の、しかしどこかに生存者がいるに違いないと思いつつ、ただ眺める(後日、地震から9日後の20日、80歳の祖母と16歳の孫が、ここからわずか数百メートルの所で救出された)。
 一同、日和山から降りようと階段から下を見た時、見覚えのある顔が登ってくる。なんと、鈴木牧師夫妻だ。思いがけない再会を喜び、祈りを合わせて、日和山を後にする。
 一度、石巻栄光教会に戻る。近くの教会員の家に一人の青年が滞在しているので、仙台まで送り届けてほしいと頼まれる。この青年は、会社の営業車で仙台に帰る途中、津波に巻き込まれた。命からがら3階建ての工場の屋根に登り、その屋根の上で冷たい雪に晒されながらも一晩中耐えたのだ。水が引いた後に屋根から下ろされ、まだ引いききらない海水を避けながら道を辿り、時に遺体の処理の手伝いなどをしながら帰る道を探していた。たまたま栄光教会の信徒の荷物を運ぶ手伝いをして、その信徒宅にお世話になった。
 津波を生き延びた青年を乗せ、仙台を目指す。途中、二つの教会に寄らせてもらう。塩釜東教会(津村勝牧師)に着いた時はすでに夜。残っていた最後のポリタンク2缶分の水を差し上げる。最後の仙台東教会は、教会員や近隣の方々の避難のために礼拝堂を開放していた。礼拝堂の長いすを向かい合わせたベッドで、寝る支度を整えているこの人々は、何を想いこの時を過ごしているのだろうか。いま、いったいどれほどの人々がこの心細い夜を過ごしているのか。去来する様々な思いを引きずるように、車に戻る。
 かの青年は、携帯電話で会社に連絡。同僚や先輩たちが、迎える準備をしているという。会社に到着すると、青年は歓喜の輪の中でもみくちゃにされた。
 翌15日は、岩手県南部の教会を訪ねたが、夕方には一関教会教会で奥羽教区議長、東北教区議長と教団総会議長の三者で緊急協議を行う予定なので、多くの教会は訪ねられない。なにしろ岩手県は四国四県が入るほど広い。南部の大船渡を目指しながら、途中、千厩教会(三河豊、柳沼赦羊子牧師)に立ち寄る。古い会堂は無人だったが、鍵はかかっていない。鍵をかけようにも、玄関の扉が閉まらないのだ。
 一関から三陸海岸方面に向かう道は緩やかな山間だが、意外にも自動販売機は稼働し、商店も営業している。この辺りでは日常的な生活が保たれているように見えた。
 ところが、しばらく進むと突然、異様な光景が目前に広がった。山間の村と思われたが、ここも津波に飲まれたのだ。鉄道の鉄橋も流され、道床にはレールがない。飴のように曲がって、その先どこへ消えて行ったかも分からない。陸前高田の街に近づいたのだった。
 規制されている陸前高田市街を回避し、やがて大船渡の街へ入る。大船渡教会(但馬秀典牧師)は港から近いが高台にあり、昨年献堂されたばかりの新しい会堂と牧師館だ。留守番をしていた役員に聞くと、二人の会員が行方不明とのこと。しかも二人とも陸前高田在住だという。
 港近くの市街へ下りてみる。2階、3階の建物がひっくり返っている。瓦礫の高さなどから想像するに、津波の高さは優に10mは超えていそうだ。海外のレスキュー隊が、瓦礫の間に潜って捜索・救出活動をしており、そこに海外のメディアがテレビカメラを向けている。視覚的には緊迫した激しい光景だが、シーンとした静けさが異様だ。言葉もない。
 一関に戻り、邑原宗夫奥羽教区議長、高橋和人東北教区議長、石橋秀雄教団議長の三者協議が祈りをもって始まった。雪が降り始めていた。