Red steel girders are all that is left of the town’s disaster response center where a young local government worker, Miki Endo, famously stayed at her post sounding an alarm and urging residents to evacuate, until the tsunami engulfed the building and she went missing.
People came from as far as Tokyo to pay their respects at the small makeshift shrine that has appeared in the shell of the building, dedicated to Ms. Endo’s sacrifice. Some residents of Minami-Sanriku want the remains of the building to be turned into a permanent monument to her heroism.
A cluster of 20 prefab housing units behind the Bayside Arena, where Sunday morning’s service was held, is now home to a fraction of the town’s people who lost their homes on March 11.
Kaeko Gyoba was in a club for Minami-Sanriku’s elderly residents with her husband when the earthquake struck. They made it up to the fourth floor and were spared as the waves swept through the three stories below, but left the building standing when the waves receded. It was one of the few buildings spared in the entire town.
“We spent two nights up there until a Self-Defense Force helicopter was able to land at the elementary school nearby and get us out,” says Ms. Gyoba.
She stayed with relatives near Tokyo after the disaster, but she returned last month to be with the rest of her family, who now occupy five of the small, flimsy-looking temporary houses.
“It’s very tough living here, I just can’t get used to it. There’s nowhere in the town to shop, you need a car to go anywhere, and I worry how cold it will be in the winter,” says Gyoba. “And none of the family have jobs now. They all worked on the ocean, farming seaweed and oysters. Everything was swept away.”