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Dr Russell - Japan Earthquake - 15th March 2011

We have limited communications now and can't watch the news but gather there's lots of bad things happening with the nuclear power stations.  I'm wearing a dosimeter which, I'm happy to report, has shown no radiation so far.

Back to the BOO and a tidy up, although there are no showers, kit is now damp and dirty and it is started to snow.  I am a bit worried about the environmental health of 200 people sleeping together in this large sports hall - it'll only be a question of time until some bug starts to go round.

I'm writing this just before 2100hrs and virtually everyone (less the journalists getting their work sorted out) is in bed and most are asleep judging by the chorus of snoring going on.  Down sleeping bag is looking very attractive!

Up at 0430hrs ready for briefing and buses at 0600hrs.  Cold start to the day, with grey low-lying clouds smothering the surrounding hills.  After a bit of planning and re-planning we headed off, about 20 minutes or so into Ofunato.

As we got into the town the damage was suddenly in front of us.  Ordinary townscape one minute, complete devastation the next.  Incredible damage: huge tree trunks stuck through remnants of buildings, a trawler right in the middle of town, cars on top of houses, shipping containers smashed like tin cans, and buildings coming to rest in places they clearly had never been before.

We were allocated our search area and soon got to work, breaking down our area into smaller sectors, and those even further still to individuals buildings and rubble piles. 

I started out with the Kent team and we worked our way through an industrial complex.  The first thing that struck me, beyond the obvious structural damage and the 6 inches of silty mud, was the number of dead fish.  They were everywhere.  Working our way through buildings doing a fairly hasty search, we looked for any places where survivors might be and any signs of survivors.

After the industrial unit, we crossed a large drainage culvert into a residential area and continued on.  The damage was catastrophic again, the power of nature truly awesome.  Searching was slow in places due to the amount of debris heaped together like a monstrous high-tide mark.  Steel frames of buildings had clearly sieved the debris of large tree trunks and cars into an impenetrable mass.

As we searched we relied on the two dogs, Byron and Bryn.  Bryn cut his foreleg on something in a search and must have cut a vessel as it bleed fairly profusely.  Direct pressure with ChitoGauze and an Olaes bandage and the bleeding was well controlled.  He was remarkably well behaved and very placid about the whole thing, going off to John Darcy for proper wound care back at the BOO.

After a break for lunch we were getting a bit chilly and glad to get back to work.  As we began to search near the main bridge, Alan Downes (Kent USAR crew leader) and I were balanced on a huge log, on top of a partially collapsed steel frame of a building, looking into a reasonably deep void for casualties.  Not the best place to be for a tremor, which shook both the log and the steelwork, with light debris dropping into the hole.  Time for a sharp exit!  Others nearby hadn't even noticed the tremor.

A short while later, a local woman appeared, and started speaking and gesticulating.  We didn't have an interpreter but it became clear that she had a friend missing after the tsunami and so we took her to show us the exact location.  What had been an apartment was now a pile of debris containing several massive tree trunks, presumably from a timber yard.  Getting into the rubble pile was difficult at first but once in, some spaces became accessible and we crawled under and through the pile.  Although we shouted and searched, finding lots of household items, we saw no signs of her.  Byron, our remaining fit dog, was then put through the pile but didn't get any 'hits'.  Concluding the search, the Japanese lady thanked us, bowing intently, and wandered off back the way she'd come.  Emotion on her face suppressed, but apparent.

It was now about time to finish for the day, so we headed back to the main police station as the rendezvous point and got back on the buses.  One of the other teams had found two dead bodies but we were surprised that we hadn't found more.  Apparently further up the estuary, over a hundred bodies had washed together.