Washed Away: Japanese Tsunami Debris
Very excited to announce that “Washed Away” has been nominated for an Emmy Award for best news special. The NW Regional Emmy Awards will be held June 7, 2014 in Seattle.

Very excited to announce that “Washed Away” has been nominated for an Emmy Award for best news special. The NW Regional Emmy Awards will be held June 7, 2014 in Seattle.

Congratulations to beach clean-up volunteer Russ Lewis for receiving the Environmental Excellence Award.  We featured Russ extensively in our “Washed Away” special report.  The Environmental Excellence Award is the Department of Ecology’s highest award for recognizing environmental excellence in the state of Washington.

Congratulations to beach clean-up volunteer Russ Lewis for receiving the Environmental Excellence Award.  We featured Russ extensively in our “Washed Away” special report.  The Environmental Excellence Award is the Department of Ecology’s highest award for recognizing environmental excellence in the state of Washington.

I was honored to present my “Washed Away” series today to various guests including the Consul General of Japan in Portland, Mr. Hiroshi Furusawa.

The presentation was part of the “Tohoku Series” a joint coordination between Japan-America Society of Oregon (JASO) & Portland State University Center for Japanese Studies.

Here is the latest model from NOAA showing tsunami debris in the Pacific Ocean.

Here is the latest model from NOAA showing tsunami debris in the Pacific Ocean.

"Photos, photos!!!," uttered Tokuichi Tokunaga after hearing that his boat washed ashore in Cannon Beach, Oregon on March 22, 2013. He never thought he’d see his boat again.

The 23-foot pleasure boat had been moored at a social boat club in the Yotsukura fishing port. All of the club’s 20 boats were swept away on March 11, 2011 when the massive tsunami hit Japan.

Tokunaga had suffered a stroke a year before the earthquake. He was preparing to leave an adult care center when the earth shook. Nurses took Tokunaga to the upper floors of the care facility with the other patients to avoid the rising water.

His wife, Mariko Tokunaga was working at the small hotel the couple owns in Iwaki City in Fukushima Prefecture. The tsunami waves swept her away several times. She survived. But their home did not. The couple’s hotel was badly damaged. The rooms could not be used again.

A government official sent the couple a photo of the boat. They framed it and put it on display. Mrs. Tokunaga says the boat had a strong power and a desire to “live.”

The story behind the story…
When a huge dock washed up on the Oregon coast in June 2012, thousands of tourists flocked to Agate Beach to catch a glimpse.  Officials declared it was the largest piece of Japanese tsunami debris to hit North America since the March 2011 disaster.  In the months that followed, countless other pieces of tsunami debris washed ashore.  News reports documented where these items washed up and what condition they were in.  But, I figured there had to be more to the story.  I wondered, “Where did this debris come from, what happened to the owner and how much is still to come?”
My curiosity prompted me to apply for the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) “Bringing Home the World” fellowship. I was lucky enough to be selected for the program which gives minority journalists in the U.S. the opportunity to cover international stories.  The program is sponsored by the Ford Foundation, with additional funding from the Brooks and Joan Fortune Family Foundation, the Scripps Howard Foundation, the Samuel I. Newhouse Foundation and United Airlines.  I appreciate their support.  It’s allowed me to travel to Japan and bring a fresh perspective of the world to our audience.

The story behind the story…

When a huge dock washed up on the Oregon coast in June 2012, thousands of tourists flocked to Agate Beach to catch a glimpse.  Officials declared it was the largest piece of Japanese tsunami debris to hit North America since the March 2011 disaster.  In the months that followed, countless other pieces of tsunami debris washed ashore.  News reports documented where these items washed up and what condition they were in.  But, I figured there had to be more to the story.  I wondered, “Where did this debris come from, what happened to the owner and how much is still to come?”

My curiosity prompted me to apply for the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) “Bringing Home the World” fellowship. I was lucky enough to be selected for the program which gives minority journalists in the U.S. the opportunity to cover international stories.  The program is sponsored by the Ford Foundation, with additional funding from the Brooks and Joan Fortune Family Foundation, the Scripps Howard Foundation, the Samuel I. Newhouse Foundation and United Airlines.  I appreciate their support.  It’s allowed me to travel to Japan and bring a fresh perspective of the world to our audience.

This is a brief slideshow/video I put together of photos taken during our tour of Rikuzentakata, Japan.   

Here is the final part of our series “Washed Away” that aired on KGW, NewsChannel 8. (Note: To remove closed captioning hit CC tab on bottom, right corner of video)

Here is part four of our series “Washed Away” that aired on KGW, NewsChannel 8. (Note: To remove closed captioning hit CC tab on bottom, right corner of video)

Here is part three of our series “Washed Away” that aired on KGW, NewsChannel 8. (Note: To remove closed captioning hit CC tab on bottom, right corner of video)

Here’s part two of our series “Washed Away” that appeared on KGW NewsChannel 8. (Note: To remove closed captioning hit CC tab on bottom right of video.)

Here is the first part of our series “Washed Away” that aired on KGW, NewsChannel 8. (Note: To remove closed captioning hit CC tab on bottom, right corner of video)

Our series “Washed Away” will begin airing on Monday, August 19th on KGW NewsChannel 8 at 6pm.  A half-hour special will air in September.

The tsunami that struck Japan in March 2011 is considered the most documented natural disaster in history. There’s video of this monster tsunami coming toward shore, then various clips show the wall of water clawing over land and consuming cars and buildings.

One of the most amazing amateur videos was taken by a volunteer firefighter in Rikuzentakata. It’s been viewed by more than one million people on YouTube. The video captures six minutes and ten seconds of action. But we wanted to hear the rest of the story.

49-year old Yuichi Owada grew up in Rikuzentakata. He played baseball for the high school. He works in an office during the day, but prefers to be at the fire station. He’s been a volunteer with the Rikuzentakata Fire Department for 22 years. When the earth shook on March 11, 2011 Captain Owada and his men jumped into action. One group of firefighters worked on evacuations. Others raced to close the tsunami gates along the city’s sea wall. Owada had gone through a similar drill just two days earlier, but that earthquake failed to produce large waves. Taking no chances, Owada drove down to the sea wall to make sure the tsunami gates were closed. They were. So Owada pulled out his smart phone and started to document the rising water. Within seconds, the water reached levels he’d never seen before. One man who can be seen on Owada’s cell phone video jumped on his bicycle and pedaled toward higher ground. As the water gained strength, Owada jumped from his vantage point on the sea wall and got into the fire truck. The man on the bicycle climbed onto the fire engine as Owada pulled away in reverse. “If he didn’t jump onto the fire engine, he would have lost his life, said Captain Owada. He drove backwards for one block, before he could turn around and speed toward higher ground. With his smart phone still recording, Owada steered toward safety and cried for everyone to escape. “I just kept yelling, quick, quick, run, run.”

Turning back, Owada could see the town he grew up in being destroyed. Homes appear to explode as the tsunami crashed into their walls. Neighbors ran for their lives. “You just can’t image that such a huge disaster would hit you directly, you’re just not ready for that,” said Owada.

Six minutes and ten seconds later, Owada stopped recording. But he didn’t stop working. Capatin Owada and his men raced to rescue neighbors. Fire fighters pulled people from submerged cars, flooded homes and toppled buildings. In the process, one fire fighter from Owada’s 22 man unit died. It wasn’t until six hours later that firefighters were able to check on their own families.

Owada learned his family survived. But his house did not. It was gone. Owada went back to work. And he didn’t stop. His hometown was in shambles and he needed to help.