Japan tsunami victims back home, searching for memories

Mon Mar 21, 2011 7:33pm EDT
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By Jon Herskovitz and Chisa Fujioka

RIKUZENTAKATA, Japan (Reuters) - In a devastated landscape of splintered homes, rotting bodies and twisted cars, an elderly many walks with stooped shoulders searching for any object that can bring back memories of his daughter.

"Her home used to be there but that is gone," the man who asked to be called by his family name Kikuchi said, pointing at a spot in the town of Rikuzentakata, leveled by the tsunami of nearly two weeks ago.

"My daughter is missing. She is gone. I was up in the hills above town and couldn't get to her in time," Kikuchi said in a steady voice.

"I am looking for something that can remind me of her. There must be something here," Kikuchi said and then resumed wandering through the mud-strewn debris in the town of broken buildings erased by a giant wall of water.

The tsunami took just about everything from those in its path who escaped with just the clothes on their backs, as the wall of water destroyed homes, pictures, keepsakes and all the objects that are touchstones of memories.

People who have spent decades in these northeastern coastal towns now find themselves disoriented when they return because streets have vanished and landmarks disappeared.

In Ofunato, a middle-aged couple looked shell-shocked as they walked around for the first time since the quake to what used to be their neighborhood -- now a flat stretch of overturned trucks, splintered wood pieces from houses and crushed roofs.

"There is absolutely nothing left. I got in my car after the tsunami warning, thinking I would come back. I didn't have my wallet or my insurance card," the wife said.   Continued...

<p>A woman looks for medical files outside a clinic destroyed by the tsunami in Rikuzentakata March 21, 2011. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj</p>