Blog

Blog | Brian Barnes’ Experience in Otsuchi

Brian Barnes’ Experience in Otsuchi

April 6, 2011 by Ric O'Barry, Earth Island Institute

Brian Barnes’ Experience in Otsuchi

By Brian Barnes

Save Japan Dolphins

Earth Island Institute

You may have seen Brian Barnes, our Save Japan Dolphins volunteer in Japan, on CNN or Fox News, recounting his harrowing experience in Japan during the recent earthquake and tsunami.  Here is Brian’s own account:

 

It’s been a bit more than a week since the devastating 9.0 magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami struck the northern prefectures of Japan.  Several volunteers, including myself, were monitoring a boat used to hunt the Dall’s porpoise as it was offloading its catch in the small town of Otsuchi when the quake hit.  We survived.  We were lucky.  As it turns out, Otsuchi was the hardest hit town, and thousands of people perished.  The event has forever changed my life, and it's taken me awhile to write the following:

Several organizations have been monitoring the dolphin kill in Taiji this year, including Earth Island Institute, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and Eyes on Taiji.  Several volunteers for Sea Shepherd had come up to Otsuchi, once the Taiji hunts ended early this year, to monitor the Dall’s porpoise hunts, which go on year round.  The porpoises are harpooned from small boats offshore.

Otsuchi harbor had a man-made concrete pier in the middle, and the fishing industry buildings were along the harbor walls.  We were in the middle of the harbor at the time of the quake, just a few feet from the edge of the pier.  On March 9th, we had experienced a 7.3 magnitude earthquake, and only a small, non-threatening tsunami resulted.  Thus, when the 9.0 quake struck on March 11th, we had the previous quake to use as a gauge, so we knew we were in immediate danger.

The quake struck as we were all sitting inside our vehicles.  We had been on the other side of the harbor when the porpoise-hunting boat arrived back, and we had been outside in the cold for several hours.  We decided to drive to the pier in the middle of the harbor, which gave us a good vantage point for watching and filming the boats while still being able to sit inside our vehicles and stay warm.  Without warning, our world began to shake violently.

It would have been impossible to drive during the quake.  However, we must have all felt that it was too dangerous to remain in the vehicles as well in fear they would be tossed over the end of the harbor, because everyone jumped out of the vehicles and walked a few feet away to where the pier seemed a bit more stable.  I watched as the concrete on the pier buckle up and down and crack.  After several seconds, I realized what a major event this was and ran back to the car to grab my camera and begin documenting the quake.

It took me at least 30 seconds to get to the car, back to where I was standing and get my camera ready to record, and I still managed to capture about a full minute of the earthquake on video.  That was a very long earthquake! 

Once the shaking subsided, I looked at another volunteer as we both said, “tsunami” at the same time.  Once again, we knew we were in trouble and with several younger volunteers we immediately prepared to leave in an attempt to save our lives.

Two police officers from Iwate Prefecture who had been assigned to follow us were waiting as we drove down the pier.  Scott West was driving, and I was rolling tape from the back seat.  He stopped and was planning to inform them we were leaving and the elder policeman said, “Tsunami!”

Scott replied, “I know, we’re leaving.”  The police officer looked scared to me, even though I could only see his eyes behind his glasses and facemask.  They had been following for the two days that we were in town, so we had taken some time to get to know them a little.  I have a great respect for Japanese law enforcement and understand they are only doing their job, and they seem to understand and respect that I was doing mine.

As the elder police officer was walking back to their van, Scott asked him, “Where do we go?”  The police officer just pointed towards the tsunami gate and said, “Go! Go!”  I then chimed in from the back seat having remembered a hill just outside of the harbor that I visited a few days prior and said, “Go to the hill!”

I have background in emergency management, having earned many certifications from FEMA, and, as a tornado chaser, I’ve dealt with emergency preparedness and natural disasters my entire life.  Anytime I go to an unknown area, I make a list of the potential threats that I might face and come up with quick and basic plan of action to take if needed.  After our earlier 7.3 earthquake, I realized that earthquakes and possibly tsunamis could be a potential threat to working in this area.

Those thoughts were summed up after meeting with Ken Sasaki from the Otsuchi City Council on the 10th, when he told us about the town’s history with tsunamis.  Thus, when I found the hill, I was thinking about it as a spot to watch the activities of the hunting boats in the harbor.  But I also realized it would be a good location to escape any deadly tidal waves if needed and was planning to include this information in my report back to Save Japan Dolphins.  In emergency management, this is simply preparedness at the personal level.  Something everyone needs to do when either at home, work or when traveling is to make note of their surroundings and potential threats and develop a very basic plan to cope with times of emergency.

We drove through the tsunami gates as the fire department was in the process of closing them.  I was shocked because there were many people, employees in the fish processing houses who were basically being locked in the harbor.  I knew then it was serious.  We drove through Otsuchi, not fully realizing it was the final moments of the coastal town as we made our way towards the hill that saved our lives.

During the drive to the hill, I was able to use an iPhone to broadcast a short live-stream and let people know what was happening.  I didn’t know at the time how much, if any, of the stream was actually making it to the Internet, and honestly my thinking was that it might be the last time anyone heard from us, so I made the attempt to try to explain where we were and what was happening.

http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/13242044#utm_campaign=www.facebook.com&utm_source=13242044&utm_medium=social

Once we arrived at the hill there was no other vehicles there.  That alone gave me a lot of concern.  Ken had just told us the day before the town had a bad history with tsunamis in the past with many deaths, and this hill appeared to me to be the highest point in the area with a road.  The fact that nobody else was there was troubling, but within a few minutes a firetruck and three other vehicles showed up.  That helped to put my tensions at ease somewhat.  At least if we were to die there, we wouldn’t be alone. 

I’ve built my professional career around a different type of natural disasters - tornadoes.  For more than a decade, I’ve witnessed and documented hundreds of tornadoes throughout Tornado Alley as well as hurricanes along the US Gulf Coast.  Even though this earthquake was a completely different type of natural disaster, I think my trained mind kicked into effect, and I immediately setup my video equipment to document whatever happened.  Little did I know at the time my video was going to be the final images of Otsuchi.

I knew that whatever happened, I couldn’t allow myself to panic, and I had to stay in control of my thoughts.  So, I worked to control my breathing and calm myself down.  I took note of our situation and realized that if the resulting tsunami was bad we might be spending several days on the hill.  And with those thoughts in-mind, I began rolling tape and watching for an incoming wave.

I’ve never experienced a tsunami before and I halfway expected a 10-foot wall of water to come rushing towards me at several hundreds miles per hour.  But, that isn’t what happened.  Our position gave us the vantage point of seeing the Pacific Ocean through the harbor entrance, as well as the town.  I could see what I thought was the first wave coming in from the sea through the harbor entrance.

But when I panned my camera towards the town, I noticed that several buildings were already underwater.  I asked the people around me to confirm what I was seeing and heard everyone say, “How did that happen?”

Then it really started to get going.  A tree sticking out of the hill just below me started to crack.  I focused the camera on the tree as the water quickly overtook it and pulled it away from the hill.  The water was quickly rising on the hill, and the road up the hill was underwater.  As I panned back on the town, I watched in horror as the wave raced into the harbor and unleashed hell on Otsuchi, immediately taking down multistory buildings and capsizing the fishing boats that didn’t leave the harbor after the quake.

http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/bestoftv/2011/03/15/exp.am.intv.barnes.cnn?iref=allsearch

Then one of the most amazing events I have ever seen happened.  The harbor began to drain.  Water poured back over the sea walls as the harbor’s floor began to expose itself.  Everything that was destroyed by the wave was now floating past us as the water made its way back into the Pacific.  For the next several hours these events would play out over and over, each time it seemed the water would make it a little deeper inland and wreck havoc on everything it touched.

Explosions were heard in the distance and fires broke out on the hills across the harbor from us where several homes were built.  Those fires were soon racing out of control as there was no way for the fire department to get to them, if there was in fact even a fire department left – we didn’t know.

As smoke filled the air and water rushed in and out of the harbor, the sun began to set on Otsuchi.  It had been nearly four hours since the first waves came crashing into town, and much of that time I spent watching the events unfold through my viewfinder.  The few people from the town with us, including the two firefighters who appeared just after the quake, began to walk down the hill towards Otsuchi.  I decided to follow them.  We walked to where the road reached sea level, only to find there was no road left.  One of the fire fighters then signaled to me and folded his hands to his head to indicate a pillow, and I got the message: “You’re sleeping on the hill tonight.”  And with that, they climbed up the hill and disappeared out of sight.  I had no idea where they were going.

I went back to the top of the hill to assess our situation and take stock of food, supplies, and water.  It was pretty grim, but we had enough to get through the night.  Soon after that, one of the volunteers who had walked to the other side of the hill came over the radio, “Brian, we have a body down here.”  I was afraid that such things would start to happen.

With the sea still not calm, I knew there was a good chance that whomever he had found wouldn’t be there after the next wave came through, so I immediately went to his location for the purpose of photographing the body.  My fear was that any bodies we found would eventually be washed to sea, never to be retrieved, and that their family members would want closure.  Thus, perhaps a photograph would provide them with the verification and closure they would need.

Soon after arriving on the other side of the hill we began to hear a woman shouting.  We were confused at first because I think we all thought it was a person on another hill that we could see which also had several vehicles parked on it.  But, we quickly realized that wasn’t the case - the screams were coming from the debris field

floating on the water.  We spotted a woman sitting on a small floating piece of wood; she was panicked.   The debris was moving in a large circle of a whirlpool.  She would would come close to land, but not close enough for us to get to her and then back to sea and this would repeat.

I found a boat that had been washed onto the road and started to go through the boat’s inventory.  I was looking for anything that could help, and hoping to find a flare gun, but only found some rope.  I took the rope and positioned it near a sea wall so in case the woman began to move towards the end of the sea wall, we might be able to run out on it and throw a line to her.  However, after an hour or so it became apparent that wouldn’t happen.

We must have come up with a hundred ideas on how we could save her, but we knew none would work.  We finally decided to borrow the fire truck that was left on the hill and pull it around.  It was well after dark, and we needed the lights from the truck to light up the water.

There was also a Japanese women who had showed up at some point, I’m not sure from where, but we had hoped to use the truck’s loud speaker to allow her to talk to the women floating in the debris.

It took about 10 minutes to figure out how to turn on the search-lights and work the radio and PA system.   We attempted to speak over the radio system to someone on the other end of the radio, but they said “Japanese only”.   Our attempts then were to switch over from the radio to the loud speaker and direct one of two boats in the harbor looking for survivors to the woman’s location.  We tried to explain this to the Japanese women who was with us, and we had no idea what she was saying through the loud speaker, but the boats didn’t seem to be bothered to come any closer.

Next, I grabbed a large flash light from the fire truck and began flashing “SOS” in Morse code to the boats.  No response.  I tried the same using the horn on the truck.  No response.  We were all growing frustrated - if we could only get those boats to move towards us, this woman would have chance.  Finally, after a few hours had passed, Tarrah took control of the PA system and begin yelling at the boats in English.   We all thought it wouldn’t work, but anything was worth a try.  To our surprise - the boats responded and began to come closer.  We all felt a bit of relief, if only the woman could just hold on a few more minutes.

We began working the spotlights trying to find the woman.  It had been about 30 minutes since anyone had heard her cry out.  The boats were in the right area as well.  But, it appeared that we were too late.  She was no longer there.  Still we continued to search with the lights from the truck until finally those on the boats decided there was no hope and turned around and worked their way up the coastline moving away from our location.

There is nothing in the world worse than feeling helpless, in my opinion.  My mission in Iwate was to document the porpoise hunt and learn how it was conducted.  Save Japan Dolphins has been active in southern Japan, notebly Taiji for many years, but this was a new area that we hadn’t yet documented.  Yet, it was the largest dolphin hunt in the world.  The mission quickly went from helping dolphins, to helping people.  And, at this moment, there wasn’t much we could do to help.  We had to sit in-place and watch whatever happened happen.  It was horrible.

We finally decided to pull the cars around to the hill’s highest point and get some rest.  We had two cars, and with the Japanese women who appeared from nowhere there were seven of us.  The cars would provide us with the much needed warmth for the night, just as it began to snow heavily, even though there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.  This was “ocean effect” snow, or moisture that was being evaporated from the water and quickly freezing.  It created a blizzard-like effect.

During the night we didn’t leave the cars running.  We would run the engine only long enough to heat ourselves and then turn it off.  We needed to save the fuel; we had no plan in-place to leave yet and had no idea how long we’d need the vehicles and the remaining fuel for shelter.  I exited the car a few times during the night and early morning hours to take a look at the situation and see what the water was doing.  By 5 AM it seemed to be settling down a lot.

Sunrise happened around 6:30 am, and we began to move around and get the day started.  First by exploring the lower parts of the hill again only to find everything had changed from when we last saw it.  There were more damaged cars smashed against the hill, more boats, more debris.  In one area I found a school a fish that had somehow been “stacked” within the mud, several octopus and of course human bodies.

There was a woman in a tree above our heads, another body in the backseat of a car that looked like it had been run over by a train.

It was absolute chaos.

We had a group meeting to assess the situation.  The hills were still burning, the smoke was thick and we had no idea what we were breathing.  Our water and food probably wouldn’t have lasted us throughout the day.  We knew that we couldn’t stay on the hill another night without the assurance of a rescue, and we doubted that would happen anytime soon.  So we began thinking about hiking out of the area and back towards the coastal highway that runs between Otsuchi and Kamaishi.   We then noticed the fishing boats that had left immediately after the quake were coming back into the harbor.  They only went as far as to see their town completely destroyed, and then stopped.  They turned around and went back to sea – there was nothing to come home to.

Just as we started preparations to pack up, the fire fighter and the few towns people who left at dusk came around the corning of the hill walking along the road where we had been about 30 minutes earlier.  I was happy to see they were still alive, but unhappy to see they were still walking around.  It was my hope they had made it back to town through the hills and notified people of our location.  It appeared they weren’t able to make it.

The fire fighter seemed a little confused when he noticed the truck was parked in the same location, but not backed in as he had left it.  The Japanese lady who spent the night sheltering with us explained to him what happened throughout the night and that we had to use the truck in the attempt of saving a woman’s life.  He looked up from their conversation at me with sad eyes and nodded and with that, we all quickly went into planning mode for getting the hell out of there.

We packed up our gear and everyone piled onto the firetruck.  I stood in the back of the truck, and we rode it to the bottom of the hill, about a quarter of a mile.  When the truck could go no further, he brought it to a stop and left it in the middle of the road.  From there on out, we were on foot and it seemed the only way out was to go over the hill adjacent to the hill we spent the night on.  The bad news was that the hill was pretty much a straight up climb and was full of loose rocks.  Even the trees gave way easily, so there wasn’t much for support.  Most of the group were still able to climb up easily, but I had a difficult time because I was carry about 35 pounds of camera equipment in my backpack.  I lagged behind the others, but eventually made it to the top only to realize that we now had a major threat of a forest fire that was raging below us coming up the hill.

Once we climbed down the other side we were led into what was the-day-before a small residential area that had been completely destroyed.  Because it is lodged between two hills, the residents who lived in this area were able to climb to safety and likely spent the night on top of a hill just as we had.  However, there were several deceased that had been gathered and covered.  The residents had a camp fire going for warmth, and small cooking fire setup as well.  There was a lady cooking rice, and they quickly offered us food and water.

It appeared however that they didn’t have much water.  I noticed a few canned goods that they had salvaged from the rubble and had stacked up on the ground.  Most of the people here were still rummaging through what they could find to build shelter and locate any canned food possible.  It didn’t seem right to be drinking their water, or eating their rice.  These people lived here, and they were staying here - they had no choice.  We however had a choice, and our choice was to continue moving on.  I located the fire fighter and explained to him that we were going to continue walking and try to get to safety.  He seemed overly concerned and tried to talk us out of it.

He didn’t speak a word of English, but I was able to understand that he was telling me that the bridges were out, roads were flooded and the town was still burning.  He was in radio communication with someone, but we didn’t know who or where.  Despite his plea for us to take shelter with them, we opted to continue on and leave the area.

We knew it was possible that we’d get half way where we planned to go, but might have to turn around and come back, still it was a risk we were willing to take.  We knew our families were worried about us; they probably assumed we were dead, so we wanted to let them know that we survived.

There were no roads or anything recognizable.  The scene looked like a Hollywood disaster movie, but worse.  The mud was at times extremely deep and hard to walk through.  But we quickly made our way to the thing we could recognize - the tsunami wall that failed to protect the town.  It ran along the harbor, and so we knew we could follow it back towards the main highway.  Once we made it to the wall, we were able to climb some stairs and walk across the river to the other side and down into the harbor area where everything had been obliterated.  A large helicopter flew overhead as we walked down.  They were pulling survivors up into the chopper and transporting them to a place unknown.

We noticed from inside the harbor that all the bridges crossing the harbor, including the rail bridge, was no longer standing.  We were on the right side of the river, but the wrong side of the tsunami wall, and with no place to climb over or go through it, we had to once again cross the wall.  It was a bit nerve racking because we were at least six stories up, and the path was only a few feet wide.  If the chopper came overhead the rotor wash would surely knock us off the wall.  We all made it safely again to the side we started from and then had to cross what was left of the road bridge, while climbing over massive piles of debris.

Once on the right side of the river and the tsunami wall, the day got a little easier for awhile.  There was a sea wall that followed the river and for the most part we had an unobstructed walk while following the river towards the highway, but it was too good to last for long.  Soon, we came across entire houses laying across our path with a fast flowing river to our left, and a field of soft mud and debris to our right.  The only option was to climb over what was left of the homes and hope the debris was stable enough to not collapse while one of us was going over it.  We did this several times.

We finally reached a point where the road was in sight.  We could even see cars moving on the roads at one point, but the debris covering our pathway became too unstable to continue.  The homes still in front of us were on fire, so it was far too dangerous to continue climbing over the debris.  We looked for a second option; we were too close to the road at this point to give up and turn back.  Two of us walked through the soft mud and flood water in the field of debris that was on the left side of the river.

We determined it was firm enough for us to walk through, but the real problem was that this entire debris field had burnt and much of it was still smoldering.

We couldn’t see much of the fire, as it was smoldering below our feet.  I was thinking that at anytime one of us might put our foot through a hole that would cave in and give whatever fire below us some fresh air that could quickly flare up on us.  It took us about an hour to cross through the burning debris, and the smells were indescribable – everything and anything that makes up a community: homes, chemicals, cars, rubber, people, pets, etc.  It had all burned, and the resulting smell was horrible, and likely toxic.  We hurried through the burning rubble until we finally reached the beginning of what was left of the road.

There was a civil defense person sitting on a barrel when we reached the road.  Being in emergency management myself, I knew the logo on his jacket.  It’s the same logo used by civil defense in the United States.  He seemed shocked to see people walking out of the damage area without injury.  In fact, I don’t think he knew what to say, and of course he realized that even if he said anything it wouldn’t make much sense to us.  So, he said nothing.  But, out of the midst of the sadness upon his face he gave me a quick grin and a nod, perhaps seeing six people walk out was somewhat hopeful to him that there was a chance of more survivors.

As for us, we thought we were on “Easy Street” at this point.  Little did we know what we were about to learn -- it would still be a long walk through more debris and destroyed homes in Kamashi before we reached a road that was capable of vehicles to take us back to Tono, the little town in the mountains where our hotel rooms with fresh clothes, water and food presumably were waiting for us.  At least climbing over steep hills, crossing rivers on foot and climbing over destroyed homes was over for us.  While the walk would be long, it was at least flat.

We spoke with a few police officers standing along the road but our conversation went nowhere.  They couldn’t understand us, nor could we understand them, and we all were in a state of shock.  We walked through a tunnel that lead to Kamaishi, and we stopped to rest at the other side.  We finished whatever food we had left, and our water was pretty much gone at this point.  We still assumed the road was open from here on out, but then Scott asked me, “I wonder why all these cars are parked along the side of the road?”

We soon learned the answer: Kamaishi was destroyed as well, and no cars could get through.

As we topped the hill which gave us our first view of Kamaishi, I was walking beside a woman who I had never seen before.  There were several other people walking in a line behind us.  We were like a trail of ants, each following the person in front of us, trying to escape the area.  Kamaishi came into view, and the woman to my left began to break down emotionally.  I could tell that this was her home.  She spoke something to me, and I responded in a soft voice that I spoke only English.  She didn’t seem to care, and she started telling me her story in Japanese.  Tears rolled from her eyes; she didn’t appear to be in good shape.  I put my arm around her, she tucked herself into my side while she cried and we continued to walked into the destroyed town.  My heart was breaking.

We reached a point where several firemen had put a body on a board to carry it out ahead of us.  Although they were moving slowly, everyone allowed them to lead the way.  They stopped after a few hundred feet to rest, and we walked past them.  Ahead we could see their fire truck and a bulldozer working its way towards them to bring the truck closer.  We made it another quarter of a mile when the fire truck drove past us in the same direction we were traveling with its siren on.  I bowed my head in a moment of silence out of respect for the deceased.

The gentleman in front of us knew we were going to Tono, and, as we approached the road, he pointed and said, “Tono” (that way).  We turned right and continued to walk.  After another mile, the roads appeared to be open.  There was a staging area setup with several large trucks and heavy equipment.  Some of the trucks had unloaded and were pulling out, so we flagged for one to stop and offered to pay for a ride towards Tono.  But it appeared it wasn’t where the truck was heading, so we continued on foot.

We finally reached a small village with a muddy road leading away from the coast.  We found a guy who only spoke about 10 words of English, but somehow understood that we were going to Tono.  He offered to help by talking to cars in passing and eventually found a few vehicles that would take us to a bus stop in the mountains about halfway.  We gladly accepted.  Once we got to the bus station, he told us to go inside and wait, and he’d find us a ride to take us the rest of the way.  It was the first time for the day we were able to sit down and think about what had happened.  We also refilled our water bottles while waiting.

You could say that we were all a little on the edge.  While we were waiting, an aftershock hit.  This was no minor tremor; it was likely above a 6.0 earthquake in its own right.  We ran out of the shaking building, each of us a bit terrified.  The gentlemen outside trying to find us a ride came over to assure us, and he told us to go back into the little bus station.  Within an hour, a lady pulled in with an SUV big enough to transport us all back to Tono.  We offered her money, but she wouldn’t take it.  She settled for a hug, and we loaded up and, shortly, we were pulling into Tono, relieved.

The first thing we noticed about Tono was the service indicator on our phones showed an active mobile phone network.  Worried that it wouldn’t last, we started to immediately make calls to let people know that we survived.  We also learned that now that we thought we were safe, a nuclear meltdown was in process at a nearby power plant.  So much for safety!

The lady parked at the bus station, and we walked across the street to our hotel.  The power and the water was out in the town, but for the moment we had mobile phone service and that was a bit of comfort, for as long as our phone batteries would last.  Aftershocks were still happening, but by this time we seem to not even think about them as much.  The town however was pretty much closed up.  No trains.  The shops were closed as well.  I was hoping the little American themed bar across the street from the hotel would be open; it wasn’t.

The hotel owner reminded me of a Japanese James Earl Jones, as hard as that might be to imagine.  He was a stout man with a deep voice, but a heart of gold.  He told me there was no power or water, but he had bottled water and to not worry about it.  He gave me a bottle for each room we had booked, as well as a candle.  He hadn’t heard about the developing nuclear crisis yet, and I informed him the best I could.  He then drove me to his friend’s (or relatives) shop, which was closed, but they opened it for me so that I could be some supplies to help get through the night.

The next morning I awoke to power and running water.  It was freezing outside, and the water wasn’t heated, but it was still running water.  A cold shower was welcomed.  We spent the day trying to develop a plan to leave Japan and we received varying accounts of a possible news crew arriving to help us get out.  I also learned that Ric O’Barry and his son Lincoln were in the moment of booking tickets to travel to Otsuchi to start searching for us.  Ric and Lincoln are two of the best guys on this planet!  I was glad they hadn’t left yet and I was able to stop them from flying into Japan.  We needed to leave, not bring more people in.

After a full day of uncertainty, one thing did seem certain – the nuclear situation wasn’t getting better, and we didn’t want to have any part of it.  We looked at all our options.  There was no way to rent a car at the train station.  There were no running trains.  But, there were taxis.  So, we hired a few cabs and took them from Tono to Akita Airport at almost a moment’s notice.  It took several hours to reach Akita, but once there we found a Comfort Inn (of all things) with hot running water and made arrangements to fly out the following morning to South Korea.  And from there, to the United States.

There is a few more things that I feel should be said, and these are my views and opinions only.  When I decided to travel to Otsuchi and learned that the Sea Shepherd crew that was in Taiji at the time was also planning to travel there as well to document the porpoise hunt for the first time, it was decided between us that it would be best to stick together.  There was originally only three of us heading up there, and, with such a small number, we thought it would be best to watch over each other.  The fishermen in Otsuchi are not use to western activists, they were scared that The Cove would also happen to them and potential violence towards us was possible.  While our organizations do not work together and share different views on how to approach problems, we are all working towards the same end result – a full stop on whaling and dolphin hunting.  I’m glad that we made this decision to stick together because without that decision, what happened in the moments of the earthquake would have surely had been different.  And it’s quite possible we might not all have made it back home alive.

I made the immediate decision to go to the hill.  I feel that decision saved our lives.  However, I could have never had walked out of the damage area if it had not been for the help of Scott West.  Further, Scott was resourceful and made the decision to get the taxis to Akita.  For a few days, we were one team in a fight for survival, and together we got the job done.  Scott and myself have a special bond now.  We depended on each other and I’m extremely thankful for his help and his being there.

Further, my mission to Otsuchi was to document how the hunts happened  and bring back all the information with me so that Save Japan Dolphins could form a future campaign to protect the Dall’s porpoise along Japan’s northern prefectures.  That mission may continue at some point

in the future, but I hope it doesn’t have to.  However, right now the mission is to help the people of Japan during this crisis that they are facing.

We work to protect dolphins.  The oceans are in trouble and are dying.  If we can't protect dolphins, of all creatures in the seas, then we can't protect the oceans.  If we can't protect the oceans they will die and so will humanity.  In other words, at the end of day, we're trying to protect humanity and I can't do that if I don't have a grip on what makes me human.

I made several friendships in Japan, in Tono and in Otsuchi.  I learned yesterday that one of those people did survive the quake and resulting tsunami, because he and his family were out-of-town when the quake hit.  As it turns out, he works in the fisheries division for the City of Otsuchi, and he is no doubt going through a very painful time in the wake of this disaster.  My heart goes out to him and his family, as well as everyone in the damage area.  These people do need our help, and I intend to do whatever is needed of me to help ensure they receive it.  And as he and I are now both survivors of this disaster, I hope that we'll have a special bond in the future if and when we meet again.  I hope that meeting will someday happen and I hope that we can all do our part to ensure that the proper help reaches these people. 

Almost anyone who survived in the North was left homeless. It's freezing there; a thaw is still weeks away.  These people need our immediate help.

We have compiled a list of resources and charitable organizations that I personally ask you to donate funds to.  These organizations are on the ground in Japan, and some are in the United States with special connections to Otsuchi, such as Otsuchi’s sister city, Fort Bragg, California which established a website Otsuchi.org.

Please help anyway you can, here's a list of organizations and resources:

Japanese Red Cross:

http://www.jrc.or.jp/english/relief/l4/Vcms4_00002070.html

Peace Boat:

http://www.peaceboat.org/english/index.php

Japanese Americans Citizen's League:

https://secure2.convio.net/dri/site/Donation2?idb=126499583&df_id=1700&1700.donation=form1&JServSessionIdr004=xth7h1uv12.app246b

OtsuchiRecovery Effort:

http://www.otsuchi.org/

Japan Society:

http://www.japansociety.org/earthquake

Yoshiki Foundation:

http://www.yoshikifoundation.org

Or find an organization you're comfortable with here:

Google Crisis Response:

http://www.google.com/crisisresponse/japanquake2011.html

Charity Navigator:

http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=content.view&cpid=1221

 

 

 

Photography by Brian Barnes.

Share |
Brian Barnes’ Experience in Otsuchi
Animal Planet: Blood Dolphins