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First Sludge Removal Volunteers: The First Step to Return to One’s Life


We began recruiting “Mud-busters” (sludge removal volunteers) last week, and the second round took place today (April 12th).  The actual sludge removal began today, so we’re naming it the first Mud-busters activity.  We had 9 participants.  Please read here for the activities of the “preparation volunteers” who came together on April 10th. 

Now, these “Mud-busters.”

Even though it’s called “sludge removal,” it is in fact more than the removal of mud.  The reality is that staff and volunteers have to remove heavy rubble that has been washed into the towns and houses, and carry out or dispose of furniture, hard tasks that require several men to accomplish. 

Despite these difficulties, in the last few days we have received volunteer applications from company employees in groups of dozens, and we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  4 out of the 9 participants today were from the Iriyama and Iketani community in Tokamachi, Niigata. This community is a group of merely 7 households where JEN has conducted emergency relief after the Chuetsu Earthquake in October 2004, rehabilitation work, and community revival through November 2010.  Elderly members of this community worry about the rice paddy preparations in the affected areas.  Please read here about JEN’s work in Niigata.

JEN is conducting activities in Watanoha in Ishinomaki city.  In this area, even one month after the disaster, the rubble and mud are virtually untouched.  We began our work there after inhabitants, who had begun cleaning out their homes themselves, requested our support.


The back of a shelter buried under rubble (above).

The garden of someone from Watanoha.


The first task today was the removal of tatami mats that had been soaking in seawater.  We carried out about 15 tatami mats and a refrigerator in 30 minutes.  The work load was so heavy that the TV crew that had come to cover our story joined in! 

The second task of the day was to carry out furniture and household items from houses.  Taking out all the items were a hard task—everything had soaked up water, making it so heavy that we struggled to carry out one drawer’s worth of clothing and one set of futon. 

Photo: This is about one third of the amount we carried.


The municipal office collects waste placed on the streets, so all the households are putting out their garbage outside.  There are high piles of waste all over the roads, and so coordinating with the teams cleaning up the streets to secure places for the waste is a challenge.

Photo: Waste piled on the road from households.


Most people haven’t been able to take out the mud from their homes, much less clean and organize it.  If we don’t remove the mud quickly, once it becomes warmer the trash and fish that have been washed up from the ocean will rot.  Obviously, this will create hygiene problems. 

People are at a loss not knowing where to begin and restart their lives from this unprecedented disaster.  The forward-looking attitude and commitment of people affected by the disaster and the volunteers from all over the country who are working together to clean up the towns and houses is an important first step.

Volunteers are full of energy and willingness to help, but the large-scale buildings that are beyond the capacity of these committed volunteers are still left untouched.  In order to remove the sludge and rubble as soon as possible, JEN staff, volunteers, inhabitants of the area, other NPOs, and government officials will need to join forces and support affected communities to take their first steps towards rebuilding their lives. Those of you who are thinking of volunteering with us--see you in Ishinomaki!  We’ll be waiting for you.



Photo: Rubble removal at an individual’s home (above).  I, Futamura, have been too focused on the tasks and hadn’t had a chance to take photographs, but thanks to one of our volunteers we managed to get this shot! 

The memorable first “Mud-busters” (below).  Thank you very much!!

We’ve just begun the sludge removal “Mud-busters” volunteers.  We’re accepting participants!  Please check here for details.

April 12, 2011 in Tohoku earthquake |