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Japan: Tweeting from Fukushima

This post is part of our special coverage on the Japan Earthquake 2011.

Just under a week after Japan was devastated by an earthquake and tsunami on a scale never before witnessed in the country's history, a new man-made threat has overshadowed the natural catastrophe and sent waves of panic around the world. At Japan's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Reactor in Fukushima Prefecture, a brave group of workers, dubbed the Fukushima 50, have been left to tame an escalating nuclear disaster.

Self Defence Forces such as @kir_imperial arrive at the scene of the tsunami in Japan. Image by cosmobot, copyright Demotix (13/03/11).

Self Defence Forces such as @kir_imperial arrive at the scene of the tsunami in Japan. Image by cosmobot, copyright Demotix (13/03/11).

Japan Ground Self-Defence Force (SDF) official and Twitter user @kir_imperial - one of the people on the ground in Fukushima – has been tweeting about day-to-day events at the nuclear power plant. His tweets have been aggregated into a thread by user inumash at the Japanese curation site Togetter.

The thread, titled “Tweets from a civil servant involved in rescue efforts at the disaster area” (被災地で救助活動を続けるある公務員のつぶやき), begins with this description:

陸上自衛官として震災翌日から現地入りし、今も救助活動を続ける@kir_imperialさんが移動中や休憩、退避中にtweetしたつぶやきまとめ(3/15まで)。現地での救助活動がどのように行われているかの参考として。

まだ余震が続く中、被災者の救護・支援を続ける自衛隊や警察・消防・各国支援隊・自治体職員・ボランティアの皆さんに心から敬意を表します。

This is a collection of tweets by @kir_imperial, who entered the area the day after the disaster as a Japan Ground Self Defence Force official and who is still involved in rescue activities, sent in transit, during breaks, or while evacuating.

I extend my heartfelt admiration to members of the Japan Self Defence Force, to the police forces, fire fighters, international assistance groups, local government employees, and volunteers active, amidst continuing aftershocks, in rescue and relief efforts to help victims of the disaster.

@kir_imperial's first two tweets in the thread, each posted on March 11, 2011, report:

@kir_imperial: 非常呼集なう

Emergency call given

@kir_imperial: 出動準備完了。いつでも来い出動命令

All set to go. Come anytime, marching orders

By the next day, @kir_imperial is already in Fukushima:

@kir_imperial: 福島なう。このままここを拠点に救助活動をするのか、転進して別の場所行くのかわからんが、早く命令おりないかな。

In Fukushima. Don’t know if we’ll base our rescue activities here or if we'll deploy somewhere else, but I'm anxious for orders.

Later the same day, @kir_imperial continues:

@kir_imperial: 他部隊の給水車が深夜水泥棒にあったらしい、気持ちはわかるが勘弁してください。ただでさえ人手が足りず、疲れてるのに、余計な仕事ふやさいで・・・。

Water truck of another troop was apparently robbed of water during the night. I understand your situation, but stop it already. We’re already short of hands and exhausted. Don't add to our work…!

And then:

@kir_imperial: 不寝番なう、まさか日本で水盗まれない為に歩哨につくとはなぁ・・・。

On night guard duty. Who would have thought I'd be on sentry duty in Japan to keep water from being stolen…

Tweets from the next day, March 13, start with a description of damage from the tsunami:

@kir_imperial: 今日初めて津波にやられた地域まで入ったけど、もう本当酷かった。何もかも持ってかれて街の原形すら、わからない位破壊されてた

Today for the first time I entered the areas struck by the tsunami. It was incredible. Everything was swept away, and was destroyed so that there with no trace of the original town.

@kir_imperial: 内陸の方は酷くても塀が崩れてるとか瓦がぶっ飛んでるってレベルで、日本の建物の耐震性って奴を改めて確認できたんだが、そんな日本の建築物ですら津波には無力だった。

Even in bad cases, the damage inland is on the level of collapsed walls or blown-off roof tiles. It confirmed to me again how resilient Japanese buildings are to earthquakes — even these Japanese buildings, however, were powerless against the tsunami.

@kir_imperial: 木造の建物は基礎の部分を残して何十㍍も流され、かろうじて原形がわかる低度にまで壊され、鉄筋コンクリートの建物は一階部分を骨組みだけ残して持ってかれ、二階部分は流された流木や自動車が突き刺さってた。

A wooden building washed away across many dozens of meters, all that was left was the foundations, a shadow of its former self. A reinforced concrete building, only the internal framework from the first floor remained, the second floor structure punctured by washed-away trees and cars.

@kir_imperial then helped with search operations in the area:

@kir_imperial: そして火災の火がまだ少し燻り、煙りでガスってる中、消防と一緒に行方不明者の捜索に入った。

With fires still smoldering and smoke in the air, I started searching with the firefighters for missing people.

@kir_imperial: 捜索開始1時間も経たずに行方不明者のご遺体を発見。その後も次々と発見される。そうこうしている間に地震の警報が携帯に、次に津波警報が無線で入り、全員作業一時中断して高台の神社に避難。

Less than one hour into the search, one of the missing is found deceased. Many more follow. As we continue working, an earthquake warning comes via a cellphone followed by a tsunami warning on the radio. We all stop our work and evacuate to a shrine on the hill.

@kir_imperial: 警報解除後も捜索は続行し、日が落ちる頃に中断し宿営地に戻る。皆被災地の想像以上の悲惨さと疲れで帰りの車内は皆黙ったままだった。

Search continued after the all-clear signal. We continued until sundown and returned to our lodgings. The ride there was silence, all of us overwhelmed by exhaustion and by the devastation, which was well beyond what we had imagined.

Just before signing off for the day, @kir_imperial writes:

@kir_imperial: 明日もまた同じ場所で、行方不明者の捜索。まだ見つかってない人が何人もいるけど、絶対見つけだしてやる。

Tomorrow, continue the search for the missing at the same place. Many still have not been found, but we’ll find them!

And reports:

@kir_imperial: 消防のレスキューと一緒に捜索してたけど、やっぱ彼等は違うな、良い意味で災害慣れしてるというか、装備が良いってのもあるけど、次々と行方不明者を発見していく。流石だわ。

I searched with the fire rescue squad, and wow, they’re something! They’re used to disasters, in a good sense. Certainly they have good equipment, but they find one missing person after another. Impressive.

To this tweet, user @taba_jp replied:

@taba_jp: @kir_imperial 逆に言うと彼らはその訓練だけをしているんだよ。小エリアに関してはレスキューが役に立つだろう。けどマンパワーや大きい設備が必要な事に関しては自衛隊に頼るしかない。炊き出しやお風呂や治安なんかもそうだね。

To put it another way, they’ve trained only for this. The rescue squad would be helpful over a limited area. But for things requiring manpower and large equipment, it’s the SDF [Self-Defense Forces]. That’s true for food distribution, for baths, and for security.

Next day, March 14, the tweets continue, describing activities at Fukushima Daiichi:

@kir_imperial: @inumash うん、原発近くの部隊は今防護衣きて防毒マスクつけて完全武装だよ。うちはまだ距離的に平気だけど・・・

Yup, the squad near the nuclear power plant is fully armed now in protective clothing and gas masks. Distance-wise, we’re still fine…

Later the same day, @kir_imperial responds to advice he's received…

@kir_imperial: 室内避難って言われても入れる建物なんてないんだけど。

People tell us to take cover indoors. But how? There are no buildings to hide in.

… and then wonders:

@kir_imperial: 被曝って保険きくんかなぁ?

Does insurance cover exposure to radiation? Hmm…

And finally, accepts fate:

@kir_imperial: ま、今装備もないし、建物は津波にやられて入れないし、なるようになるしかないか。

Well, we have no gear, and buildings are damaged by the tsunami so we can’t go in. I guess whatever happens, happens.

@kir_imperial: でも距離的にそこまで危険性は無いと思うんだけどねぇ

But distance-wise I don’t think the danger is that bad

Later the same day, a building is found:

@kir_imperial: 結局小学校に避難。命令待ちなう

Ended up taking cover in an elementary school. Waiting for orders.

And dinner is served, as shown in this picture:

@kir_imperial: 今日の豪華ディナー、しいたけ飯、福神漬、味付けハンバーグなり。珍しく外れが無い。

Today’s fancy dinner, rice with shiitake, pickled vegetables, and flavored hamburger steak. Nothing missing, for a change.
@kir_imperial's dinner

Photo of @kir_imperial's dinner

@kir_imperial then reports:

@kir_imperial: ふほ・・・ついにうちの部隊に化学防護衣がきやがった・・・。やれやれ。

Whoa… our squad ended up getting chemical protection clothing… well.

But then clarifies that chemicals aren't the biggest danger:

@kir_imperial: 今現在、うちの部隊最大の脅威となってるのは多分花粉症。日本海側はまだ花粉が本格化してなかったせいか、こっちきたら皆鼻水とくしゃみに苛まれてる。

At the moment, the biggest threat to our squad is probably hay fever. Perhaps it was that hay fever season had not entered its height on the Japan Sea side [west coast], but after coming here [north-east coast] everybody is plagued with runny noses and sneezing.

@kir_imperial: こういう大規模災害だと自衛隊が注目されるけど、消防や警察だって凄い頑張ってるよ!特にレスキューなんて行方不明者の捜索や救助の技術は、うちらより全然高い。あと災害救助犬可愛いw

The SDF gets attention in large-scale disasters like these, but the firefighters and police are also working very hard! The rescue squad particularly is much more skilled at searching and rescuing. And the rescue dogs are adorable!

@kir_imperial also warns potential volunteers who want to come help (see an earlier Global Voices post):

@kir_imperial: ボランティア行きたいって人はもうちょっと待った方が良いと思う。高速や下道は色んな所で寸断されてるし、毎日津波やら余震に警戒せにゃならんし、ガス水道電気も復旧してない地域が多い。もしそれでも来たければ最低でも一週間は生存自活出来る装備と物質がないとガチで酷い目にあうよ。

Those who want to volunteer should hold off a little. Highways and roads are blocked in many places, they need to cautious everyday of tsunami and aftershocks, and many areas have not recovered gas/water/electricity services. If even with that if they still want to come, they’d better have equiment and material to survive on their own for at least a week or they’ll be in serious trouble.

And finally:

@kir_imperial: TLの犬画像見て思いだしたんだが、今日、津波でぶっ潰れた家から遺体を出す作業してたんだけど、そこの家の飼い犬らしきワンコがずっとついて来て、遺体の顔をペロペロ舐めたり、袖を引っ張ったりしてたんだよね。途中で別の作業入ってその場所から離れたんだけど、あのワンコどうなったんだろ。

The image of a dog on the TL reminds me: today I was working on recovering a body from a house crushed by the tsunami. All the while a dog that seemed to be this family’s pet followed along, licking the face of the deceased and pulling on the sleeve. Part way through I left the spot for other work, but I wonder what happened to that dog?

@kir_imperial continues actively tweeting (in Japanese), follow the tweets here.

This post is part of our special coverage on the Japan Earthquake 2011.

Thanks to Koko Peters for the translation of the tweets in this article.

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