By Brooks Baehr - bio | email
ISHINOMAKI, JAPAN (HawaiiNewsNow) – "Gone. Just completely gone." Kaimuki resident Kirby Fukunaga can be heard saying those words while recording video out the window of a van driving through the rubble in Ishinomaki, Japan.
Fukunaga is married to a Japanese national. He has many good friends in Japan. And he has a surf based business in Japan (www.go-naminori.com). He felt compelled to help disaster stricken people once he saw the devastation caused by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
On April 4 Fukunaga left Hawaii for Osaka. Once there he met with friends. They filled two vans and a truck with relief supplies and headed toward the hardest hit areas. Their quest to help took them within 11 miles of the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant which has been spewing radiation for almost a full month.
"It is a lot worse than what I expected. I didn't ... it's just what I expected but 100 times more," Fukunaga told Hawaii News Now by telephone Thursday.
Their trip took them first to the city of Minamisoma. It was devastated by the tsunami. Fukunaga had seen a video posted on YouTube by the mayor of Minamisoma. It was a plea for help. The mayor asked people around the world to send safe food, water, gas, and other essentials.
"We regret to say this, but we have to ask volunteers to act at their own risk," Mayor Katsunobu Sakurai says in the video.
The risk Sakurai speaks of comes from the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Downtown Minamisoma is just 25 kilometers from the plant. Radiation in Minamisoma has been well above recommended levels. The threat did not stop Fukunaga and his friends.
They pushed on through deserted towns, past villages flattened by Mother Nature, and past people wondering in debris fields … people whose lives will never be the same.
"We went to maybe 18 kilometers within the plant. I had a radiation counter on me so I could keep track of the radiation," Fukunaga told Hawaii News Now by phone.
The mayor was busy, so Fukunaga and his friends met with the number two man in charge of the city. They offered help and off loaded supplies for people in need, then got back in their vehicles and continued North.
Late Thursday Japan time a magnitude 7.4 quake shook the ground under the van in which Fukunaga was sleeping. He and his friends scrambled to safety.
"I was in the van with a couple of people. We got out of the van and not even a minute later the sirens went off. 'Tsunami.' Not 'tsunami might come. Tsunami is coming,'" Fukunaga said.
"We just jumped in the van and sped up the hill. We didn't even know where the hill was, but we just kept on following all the other cars."
Fortunately this time the quake did not produce a tsunami. So Fukunaga and friends pushed on. Hawaii News Now talked to him Thursday afternoon Hawaii time. He was in the town of Ishinomaki.
The radiation risk is not as great there, but the tsunami damage in Ishinomaki is devastating.
Fukunaga bought the supplies he is distributing with money from donations and t-shirt sales. He is accepting donations at the following address.
P.O. Box 10053
His website is in Japanese, but even non-Japanese speaking web savvy people can visit his site and send Fukunaga an e-mail or arrange to purchase a t-shirt by clicking on the "Contact Us" button.