15 Mar 2011

Japan: calm amidst desolation

Chief Correspondent

Walking the upturned streets of Ofunato in Japan, Alex Thomson paints a desolate scene of destruction in another day witnessing what he says is the worst disaster he has visited in his career.

Someone tweeted today. Saying it must be “mayhem” amd “chaos” over there.

Well, no.

Over here there is no chaos. No mayhem. There is a nuclear powerstation with some heating issues. There is a forest fire, a blizzard tonight and coastal obliteration on an unimaginale scale.

But this is Japan. They do not panic. They do not do mayhem. They don’t litter and they don’t loot.

But they do direct you quietly past their police checkpoints to their ruined towns.

Ofunato, this afternoon. Into its industrial quarter we wandered. Gooey silt, broken glass and the slime of rotten fish underfoot.

Above the splintered fish factory hundreds of gulls, crows, buzzards scream and wheel about; we’ve imposed, broken up this sudden feast of fetid tuna lying in the slime.

We are the only people around this desolation of warehousing and factories, ripped, splintered, spilled by the tsunami’s passing.

A ragged Japanese flag is torn among the debris.

The sky today gunship gray and heavy. The cold bites today, drizzle now, but snow to come, surely.

There is desolation in Ofunato today, almost beyond words.

The Red Cross says the damage is as bad as it has ever seen.

Medecins sans Frontieres say there is a major job to do.

In Ofunato itself a British rescue worker tells Japanese TV: “From what I see here – this is going to be a long job. A very long job.”

It is tradition in Japan to play music at 5pm to let local children know that it’s home time.

Here, they play “Yesterday”, from some distant, undamaged speaker, as we stand in the utter desolation of the town’s former industry.

“All my troubles seemed so far away. Now it looks as though they’re here to stay. Oh yesterday came suddenly.”

Follow @alextomo on twitter