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Japan bakery stands out in tsunami wasteland
by Staff Writers
Ishinomaki, Japan (AFP) Sept 27, 2011

The thronging Eclair bakery with its pristine white shop front stands out against the piles of rubble that Japan's huge tsunami left when it ripped through the city of Ishinomaki in March.

Housewives pick their way through streets of gutted houses to line up patiently for the bread and pastries the bakery has sold since 1946.

Inside, three young girls wearing white blouses and red aprons laugh and joke with customers while owner Tsugio Tsuruoka toils in the kitchen at the back.

"After the tsunami I was here every day to try to put things back together bit by bit," he said. "We reopened on July 30th."

"At first I was surprised to see so many customers because there aren't so many people living around here any more, but my old regulars come back from time to time and my turnover now is the same as it was before the disaster."

Alongside the familiar faces, the professional workers and the volunteers who have come to help put Ishinomaki back on its feet now form the backbone of the business.

"I think unfortunately it's going to take another year before the neighbourhood is rebuilt properly," said Tsuruoka.

"They'll probably have to knock down everything that has not already fallen."

Ishinomaki was one of the places hardest hit by the enormous waves that battered Japan on March 11 after a huge 9.0-magnitude earthquake ripped apart the seabed off the country's northeast coast.

Of the 20,000 people recorded as dead or missing nationwide, nearly 4,000 were residents of this city -- one in 40 of the population.

Mountains of rubbish are piled high after months of clearing, but some parts of the city still resemble a bombed-out war zone.

Much of the industry of this once thriving fishing port is gone; warehouses were shattered, factories were washed away and almost unrecognisable buildings stand blackened by the fires that erupted as kerosene and gas exploded.

Many of those who called Ishinomaki home have left to join relatives or to live in the prefabricated buildings that now dot the northeastern coast.

Some of the luckier few have been able to stay in their homes, confined to the upper floors that escaped the wrath of the waves, while on the ground floor the scattered remnants of their lives lie broken and twisted in puddles of stagnating water.

A little further inland from the bakery, a shopping mall is struggling to emerge from the devastation.

"Some of the shops here have re-opened," said Virginia Mens, a long-term French resident of Ishinomaki, whose house was badly damaged in March.

"At night some of the bars are getting more lively, as volunteers and locals go out to let their hair down," she said.

But with a large area of the town devastated and rebuilding frustratingly slow, a worrying number of people are looking with uncertainty at the next few months.

"Winter is going to be difficult," said Mens, who has spent time volunteering in the schools and other public buildings that remain home for those without anywhere else to go.

"The prefabricated housing the local authorities constructed is apparently very well made, but you have to remember that those who live in it have often lost everything: their family, their homes, their work.

"A roof is not everything."

Mens blames the glacial pace of public aid work for the desperate situation many survivors still find themselves in.

And Briton Jamie El-Banna, who has been volunteering in Ishinomaki for three months without a break, agrees.

"There is still a lot of work to be done," he said.

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Despite concerns about global warming and a large increase in the number of reported storms and droughts, the world's death rate from extreme weather events was lower from 2000 to 2010 than it has been in any decade since 1900, according to a new Reason Foundation study. The Reason Foundation report chronicles the number of worldwide deaths caused by extreme weather events between 1900 and ... read more

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