The eerie quiet and the kilometres of barren land where once thriving towns and villages stood is what Mike Redpath remembers most.
“You could sense how quiet it was,” said the City of Richmond’s senior manager, parks and recreation. “You’d go into a town completely decimated by the tsunami and see nothing but maybe a building or two… you can’t begin to imagine what it’s like unless you are there.”
Redpath was part of the four-man delegation — which included veteran councillors Bill McNulty and Harold Steves and Jim Kojima, vice chair of the Richmond Sister City Committee — who recently saw first hand the catastrophic destruction caused when the tsunami swept across Japan last year.
“It’s humbling and surreal all at once,” said Redpath, who was also the official photographer during their two-week trip.
For McNulty, the thought of what the students of a high school in a small fishing village in Onagawa had to endure is what stays in his mind.
“The high school is up a hill and when the tsunami hit, the students could see the whole village down below and watch the waves come in and wash out the entire village,” McNulty said, adding the village was similar in size as Steveston before the tsunami. “Out of 208 students in Grades 8 to 12, 200 of them became orphans that day.”
Steves added, “This is the most important trip I’ve ever been on … and I’ve travelled a lot. We are so accustomed to seeing devastation on our television screens, but to see it first-hand is life changing. I was incredibly moved by the resiliency of the Japanese people and how positive they are in the face of all they’ve gone through.”
While in Onagawa, the delegation bought 700 life vests to be used by students in case of a similar emergency. They also brought with them a $120,000 donation to purchase much-needed items for students in seven schools in the region.
McNulty said the $120,000 is part of the $150,000 already raised. The balance, $30,000, was held back pending their trip there to see what else might be needed.
“It ($30,000) will be used to purchase more items on their wish list,” said McNulty.
All three agree they will continue to raise funds to help the people of Japan, especially the orphans from the Onagawa region.
In the meantime, the Rotary Club of Steveston is still accepting donations.
“We are working on a five-year program to help the students,” McNulty said. “Every penny we raise goes directly to aid the people of Japan. We also help the economy by purchasing the goods in Japan at a discounted price, so any donation of money goes even further.”
If you would like to donate, visit the rotary’s website at www.stevestonrotary.org.