Wednesday, February 27, 2013
How Crematorium's 'Miracle' Recovery Eased Town's Pain
TOKYO (Nikkei)--Residents of Natori, Miyagi Prefecture, breathed a sigh of relief when reconstruction work on a city-run crematorium there that was devastated by the March 2011 tsunami was finally completed on Jan. 28.
- This crematorium operated by the city of Natori, Miyagi Prefecture, was gutted by the tsunami that struck on March 2011.
But even before that, in the days and weeks following the disaster, there was relief when swift efforts to patch up the battered facility made it possible to cremate the bodies of hundreds of victims, saving them from having to be temporarily buried in makeshift graves.
After the tsunami hit, six towns and cities in Miyagi Prefecture, including Ishinomaki, were forced to bury their dead until they could find operational crematoriums because of the widespread damage to such facilities. About 22%, or 2,108, of those killed in the prefecture had to go through this process.
The death toll reached about 900 in Natori. But even though the crematorium was at one point submerged by the tsunami, the city managed to avoid temporary burials, something Natori Mayor Isoo Sasaki calls "a miracle." The disaster shed light on just how important crematoriums are in such times.
On March 14, 2011, just three days after the Great East Japan Earthquake struck, officials at a maker of crematory furnaces visited the crematorium in Natori at the city's request to assess the damage.
"We thought it would take a good six months to repair it, because the first floor was almost totally destroyed, filled with massive amounts of sand and wood debris," said an official from the furnace maker.
By that time, the number of deaths in Natori had already topped 700. Mayor Sasaki ordered city officials to do everything in their power get the crematorium operating again quickly so that families of the deceased would not have to go through the painful process of burying, exhuming and cremating the bodies of their loved ones.
One ray of hope for a fast recovery was that power supply-related equipment for the furnaces was not damaged by water because it was installed on the second floor.
"I designed it that way as a precaution against flooding," said the architect who designed the crematorium. The layout of the equipment helped the facility restart much sooner than anticipated.
On March 25, two weeks after the disaster, two of the four furnaces were restarted, and all the furnaces were back in operation three days later, thanks to swift repairs. Crematory furnaces are generally designed to be used two to three times a day, but the city operated them up to six times a day to avoid temporary burials.
Battered But Functional
Natori city officials removed debris in the crematorium and covered the damaged windows with panels, but much of the facility was still badly damaged.
Because of the damage inside, "We were forced to make families of the deceased wait outside in cars until the cremations were over," said a manager of the crematorium.
He says he felt bad about asking the families to wait outside, but that they were nevertheless grateful for the city's efforts to get the facility running again. One city official says the ability to cremate their loved ones in their hometown appears to have helped bring some closure to the families.
(The Nikkei Feb. 26 evening edition)