Reconstruction in Tohoku
How the Japanese Physically Move Mountains
Japan recently marked the third anniversary since the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011. I recently had the opportunity to drive up the Tohoku Coast to coordinate our third reconstruction project in the region. Driving into the tsunami hit town of Rikuzentakata we noticed something truly amazing. As pictured, what looks like a new mini Golden Gate bridge that spans the nearby mountains to the city core was recently erected. Initially, we believed that this new bridge was for a new rail line linking Tohoku communities, however, we were astounded to find out that the bridge span to the nearby mountains was in fact a giant conveyor system to bring in top soil from the mountains to raise the ground levels within city limits.
Approximately the size of Burnaby, central Rikuzentakata was almost entirely washed away in the tsunami. As part of the city’s reconstruction plan the ground levels in the central low lying areas will be raised by as much as 11 meters to allow for residential construction to return to the city core. At the moment most of the tsunami affected residents remain in the temporary housing shelters. While the tsunami debris has mostly been cleaned up, the current task is to construct sea walls and raise ground levels to prevent such a disaster from ever happening again. The massive conveyor system will move 6.4 million m3 of soil from the neighboring mountain to provide the landfill for central Rikuzentakata. In total 7.85 million cubic meters of topsoil are required to raise the ground levels in this town alone. As similar process is unfolding in communities all along the Tohoku Coast. Thousands of industrial excavators and dump trucks are busily beavering away removing top soil from the higher elevations to raise the ground levels of the central Coastal villages. Given the massive nature of this undertaking, we are likely another 2 years away from the start of significant residential rebuild in these towns.