ISHINOMAKI, Japan - KIRO 7 Eyewitness News reporter Gary Horcher and photojournalist Reed Nolan travelled from Tokyo north to the Tsunami-ravaged coast of Japan, where they got an exclusive look at what might be washing in toward Pacific Northwest shores.
There, they found that people still dealing with loss are hoping some debris might be found again.
Unforgettable video showed the deadly tsunami that killed nearly 18,000 people, slamming its way through an area four times the size of Seattle.
Horcher and Nolan visited the same area around the northeast coast of Japan, where they saw ruins and wreckage, some of it in huge piles and some of it untouched.
They were told looters were afraid of ghosts and the ruins were everywhere.
Many Japanese tsunami victims believe the properties and the remaining debris should be respected, whether it's there or floating in ocean currents. They say it all belonged to families and the children who were killed.
In Ishinomaki City, where some 3,000 were killed, mourning and unimaginable loss is a part of daily life. Miles from the ocean shore, Horcher found a shrine on the playground of an elementary school, where 74 children were killed.
A man there was grieving the death of all three of his grandchildren. Ruins of the school stand as a spiritual relic of the loss.
Much of what filled the classrooms was never seen again.
“When I stand here, I’m so sad and I feel sorry for them,” he said.
All of those objects are said to be floating in the ocean, heading toward the United States. The people in Japan want Americans to know that none of the debris is garbage. To them, many of those items are sacred.
“They are not just garbage or debris, they are personal belongings, so they should be returned because they have their personal feelings in it,” said tsunami victim Isao Araki.
They said anything that might wash up that reminds them of their missing children is important.
“Even just a little pen helps. And they just want to have something personal that, you know, used to belong to the children,” said Mai.
But scientists believe the sheer amount of tsunami debris flowing in the ocean toward the U.S., which could include human remains, is staggering. When a 66-foot Japanese dock washed up in Oregon months ago, it may have been a message in a bottle, a warning of much more to come.
It will take years for Japan to sort through the mountains of debris near their shores. Some are eight stories high. There are far too many crumpled cars to count, and every day, trucks bring more. Japanese officials believe millions of tons of the same kind of mangled debris was pulled into the U.S.-bound currents of the Pacific, including building materials, shoes, bikes and anything that might float.
A computer animation was made by marine researchers showing an estimate of the massive debris field steadily moving east, toward the Pacific Northwest.
Makato Ando represents hundreds of families who lost everything they owned, are all living in one-room temporary housing. Ando can't estimate what kind of Tsunami debris will wash up in Washington state, or when, but wants us to respect whatever is found on our shores.
“We have lots of memories in those things, so if they’re found, and if they’re identified, I’d be willing to have it back, definitely,” said Ando.