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Olympic volunteers seek to tell their earthquake stories

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RIFU, Japan (AP) – Atsushi Muramatsu’s handmade business card-size handout, written in several languages. One reads, “Welcome to Miyagi Stadium. The gym next door was the largest mortuary for the tsunami victims.”

More than a decade after a massive earthquake struck northeastern Japan and a tsunami devastated northeastern Japan, the Tokyo Games were supposed to offer an opportunity to show just how much has been rebuilt. It was even described as the “Games of Recovery and Reconstruction,” and the Olympic torch relay began from Fukushima Prefecture, the heart of the nuclear disaster area.

But the coronavirus pandemic means fewer spectators are coming to any of the Olympic events, including football and baseball, that are held here. This leaves some Olympic volunteers having to find their own ways to recount their experiences to those rare fans who pass, as well as members of the media.

“I think the residents in the affected areas want to express their gratitude for the support from abroad, and I also want to continue to deliver a message that we would like to remember,” said Muramatsu, who works as a volunteer at Miyagi Media Stadium. Operations center.

The stadium has a capacity of 49,000, but due to the pandemic, it is one of the few venues that allows up to 10,000 spectators.

Another volunteer, Mieko Onuma, wants to give back to all those who supported reconstruction by sharing her experience with Japanese visitors to Miyagi at the storytelling center set up near a shuttle bus stop.

“When the disaster happened, I was a primary school teacher. I feel a duty to tell what happened that day, so I tell my stories here,” said Onuma.

Toshihiro Omeki, 14, came to watch football matches with his father, but he also joined the storytelling session in Okuma.

“At the time I was five years old, so I can hardly remember the disaster. So it wasn’t like reminiscing but learning new things,” Umeki said. “There were a lot of horrible things I didn’t know.”

On March 11, 2011, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake triggered a tsunami that caused meltdowns at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. The disaster severely damaged coastal neighborhoods and claimed more than 18,000 lives, and about 10,000 people were killed in Miyagi Prefecture.

Muramatsu said he observed hundreds of recovered bodies being cleaned from the ocean, then transported to a gymnasium.

With scenes like this every day and hearing the news of his friends’ death, Muramatsu said he feels there is no line between life and death. What drove him to survive were daily conversations with foreign rescue workers, who helped lift people’s spirits with a joke or a kind word.

“I want to pass on the message to the next generation that we have received a lot of support from abroad, and we will never forget that support,” Muramatsu said.

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