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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

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First-hand look: Officials from around 30 countries visit the port of Mangokuura in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, last Wednesday. KYODO

Ishinomaki recovery impresses U.N. team


ISHINOMAKI, Miyagi Pref. — Roughly 100 senior officials from around 30 nations and five international organizations visited a tsunami-hit port in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, last week and praised reconstruction efforts in the city, which suffered the largest death toll in the March 2011 disasters.

"It is being rebuilt, this entire region is being rebuilt and Japan is clearly sending a signal to the world (that) their resilience matters," said Jordan Ryan, director of the bureau for crisis prevention and recovery in the U.N. Development Program.

The comments were made at a panel discussion Wednesday following the officials' visit to Mangokuura port as part of the two-day World Ministerial Conference on Disaster Reduction held in Sendai.

According to Ishinomaki officials, around 3,600 residents — about 2.25 percent of the city's population — were killed or remain unaccounted for. Across the disaster zone, around 19,000 people died or are missing.

The damage in Ishinomaki has been estimated at ¥320 billion, with 33,000 houses destroyed or heavily damaged, while around 2,700 fishing boats, or 85 percent of the fleet, have been written off.

"Seven-meter-high tsunami hit this area. . . . It was disastrous," municipal official Shinetsu Oikawa told the visiting officials at the port. "Totally devastated is how I would describe Ishinomaki in the aftermath of the disaster."

He said the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant crisis has only made the situation worse.

But the port, known for its seed oysters and seaweed, recovered quickly. It was able to reopen at the end of October, despite the damage to the fleet and fishing facilities, because some of the oysters survived the tsunami.

"I was impressed" with Oikawa's comments, said Samoa Ambassador to Japan Leiataua Dr. Kilifoti Eteuati. "There was devastation, but a good recovery has been made and they discovered the seed oysters and were prepared by October."

Eteuati said he was reassured when Oikawa told him that the oysters are tested for radioactive contamination.

Oikawa also said the seaport received financial assistance from France as Mangokuura seed oysters helped ease the danger of extinction of oysters in France many years ago.

"France gave us support in return for our resilient oyster seeds," Oikawa said.

During the conference's panel discussions, participants focused on emergency response recovery and reconstruction following disasters, and shared the view that communities and the private sector must work together in improving preparedness.

"As Ishinomaki city strives to be the model city for reconstruction, I want to pass on the lessons we learned to the world," said Mayor Hiroshi Kameyama.

A similar excursion was organized to Fukushima Prefecture to see the impact of the disasters on the manufacturing sector. They visited Fujitsu Isotec Ltd., which makes servers for personal computers.

Another group went on an organized tour to Chusonji Temple, a World Cultural Heritage site, in Hiraizumi, Iwate Prefecture, to examine the effect of the disasters on tourism.

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