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Sunday, April 17, 2011
Unclaimed albums testify to missing
NATORI, Miyagi pref. — The pictures are a random, soiled sampling of years and decades past: a young girl laughing at a festival; a somber couple in black and white; an awkward group posing at Universal Studios.
Former residents of the tsunami-ravaged area walk slowly along as they scan the columns of images, which are clipped or taped to long pieces of string on the walls of this muddy gymnasium, a motley testament to a town that no longer exists.
More than a month after the powerful tsunami blasted ashore March 11, boxloads of muddy, torn photo albums arrive throughout the day. They are carried in by soldiers working nearby or locals who roam the streets of their flattened neighborhoods, looking for links to their old lives.
"It's just a way for people to keep their memories," said Ami Kisara, 24, who found her elementary school yearbook after stopping by with some pictures she found in the rubble.
Kisara, who came with her mother, said the home she grew up in was totally destroyed in the tsunami, and her father was washed away.
At first the photos were just left in piles near where they were found, but then soldiers began to bring them to this gym at a ruined elementary school in the city of Natori, said Saori Takezawa, 35, who leads volunteers who gently wash and hang the findings.
"It's better here, out of the rain," said Takezawa, as she carefully layers traditional wedding photos over foldable tables set up on the gym's stage.
The parquet floor, coated in a thick layer of grime, is covered in rows of boxes containing albums and photos that haven't been hung up yet, and locals painstakingly sort through with latex gloves. Other items brought in from the rubble are sorted into groups — the graduation certificates have grown into a small mountain, and a table is packed with family shrines.
Occasionally someone cries out or calls to a friend when they find something they recognize.
Takezawa, whose childhood home was destroyed in the tsunami, has been volunteering here for about two weeks but has yet to find one of her own photos. Or any trace of her 8-month-old daughter, Misato, whom she always left with her parents when she went to work.