Professor Jose Holguin-Veras last month spent about two weeks in Tohoku, Japan, surveying the land and conducting countless interviews in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake and the subsequent tsunami.
Holguin-Veras, in the above photo, is pointing to the ruins of a breakwater in Minami Sanriku, a coastal town in Miyagi Prefecture. It’s less than 50km from the small town of Tsukidate, where I lived for three years.
As made obvious from the photo, Minami Sanriku was badly impacted. The breakwater structure, on which Jose is standing, is about 3 meters tall. Sadly, this defensive structure did little to deter the tsunami. Look to where Jose is pointing, at the walkway situated on top of the breakwater. Those towers stand at least an additional 8 meters tall. The debris sitting on top of this walkway shows us – incredibly – how high the tsunami grew and how powerless we can be rendered when nature flexes is muscles.
Jose’s fascinating research involves scrutinizing the response to catastrophic disasters. He was at Ground Zero in New York in the days following Sept. 11, 2011. He was in New Orleans in the weeks following Hurricane Katrina, and in Haiti the week after the tragic Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake. He wanted to visit Japan much earlier than he did, but travel restrictions from the U.S. State Department, on account of the crisis at the Fukushima nuclear reactor, prevented it.