I don't know if this is behind a paywall, but this was a well written, heart wrenching article about the aftermath and the search by grandparents for their kids and grandkids:http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703566504576202140102747856.html
MARCH 16, 2011
'My Grandson Is Here'
Rice farmer Higuchi seeks daughter, three grandsons in post-tsunami chaos; a list full of survivors named Oikawa
ISHINOMAKI, Japan—Hideo Higuchi and his wife sat in their truck, staring at the long lake in front of them. Beneath was the road to their daughter's home. Now it was a dead end.
The Higuchis hadn't heard from her since Friday's earthquake and tsunami. Water and debris had blocked the road into town. Phone networks remained down. So when floodwaters receded enough Tuesday to let them through, the couple rushed to Ishinomaki on Japan's devastated eastern coast, where their daughter lived with her husband and three sons.
"I am not from here," said the 70-year-old rice farmer, as his bloodshot eyes tried to measure whether his boxy white truck could make it through the knee-deep water. "I have enough gasoline, but I don't know any other way around."
"What is the damage like in Ishinomaki?" his wife, Sayono, 68, anxiously asked a stranger. The Higuchis live around 15 miles inland from Ishinomaki, in a small city shaken by the earthquake but unaffected by the tsunami.
Like most of the towns and seaside villages ravaged by the earthquake and tsunami, Ishinomaki has a higher-than average proportion of old people: 27% of the 163,594 residents are over the age of 65. The city is known for its fishing and oysters, cucumbers and tomatoes.
The Higuchis turned their truck around. The bed of the Isuzu, emptied of the usual rice seedlings and farming equipment, held a cardboard box of food and drinks. They were for their daughter's family, if the family could be found.
The couple decided to try to find the primary school of their three grandsons—Ryo, 12, and the 10-year-old twins Chihiro and Masaki. It was a likely place for the family to end up: It was where the boys would have been when the earthquake hit on Friday afternoon, and in many small towns like this one, schools are often the tallest buildings and likeliest emergency shelters.
But the Higuchis, dazed from days of worry, weren't sure of the school's name. They had an idea how to get there but only by the one road that had been cut off by the remaining water. Pointing to a map, Mr. Higuchi asked people on the street. "Is there a grade school around here? What's it called? Is it an evacuation center?"
They wound through Ishinomaki's narrow back streets. On the roadsides were sights rarely seen in Japan until the past four days: men in military fatigues directing traffic, girls with plastic bags taped over their sneakers, old men grilling a fish over a fire in an oil can. A middle-age woman, bowing with a particularly Japanese shame at the thought of inconveniencing a stranger, held a sign: "Please give me a ride to Watanoha."
The Higuchis were directed to a middle school. They drove past it and were told there was no grade school in the neighborhood. Before making a U-turn, Mr. Higuchi stepped out of his truck and adjusted his black baseball cap as he talked to some neighborhood boys. The grade school was still underwater, the boys said. People there might have been taken out by helicopter.
They returned to the middle school, hoping his daughter and family had been moved to the evacuation center set up there. To search the four floors of evacuees, they split up. Each room had a roster pinned outside the door, naming the people who slept there and their age. Mr. Higuchi, with thick glasses and poor eyesight, went through more than 10 rosters, sometimes accidentally reading the class schedules still posted on the walls.
"Oikawa...Oikawa...Oikawa," he said repeating the married name of his daughter, Miyuki. There are a lot of Oikawas here, so his crooked fingers often paused as he went down the lists.
"No, that's not right," he said, raising his glasses to get a better look at one list. "Seventy years old is too old."
Classrooms, music rooms and even stairwells were full of people, some chatting, some staring into space. One anxious-looking resident clutched a long-haired dachshund to her chest and paced up and down the hallway. Another mumbled to herself from under a pile of blankets.
No one took notice of the Higuchis, one of the many visitors here in search of loved ones. The children playing in the hallways obediently answered their questions. "There's a grade school near here right?" Mr. Higuchi asked a cluster of kids sitting near the window at the end of the third floor hallway.
"Yes," one answered, pointing through the window. "See that yellow building with a green roof? It's behind there." Added another: "Just walk down that street."
Mr. Higuchi's wife arrived just then. She had found a boy from the same grade school and asked if he knew the Oikawa twins. "He knows what they look like and says he hasn't seen them here," she said.
Back on the road and beyond the yellow building, they at last found the boys' grade school. It wasn't underwater. But unlike the middle school, it was eerily quiet. There were evacuees on the third floor, they were told.
The couple moved faster than they had all day, up the steps. Before she finished sliding open the first classroom door, Ms. Higuchi gasped. "Ryo!" She waved her hand, apparently reluctant to enter the room. "Ryo, come here."
It was her eldest grandson. Inside the room, also, were their son-in-law's parents. "You're all right!" they shouted back at the Higuchis.
Three adults, in a display of emotion seldom seen in Japan, jumped up and down holding hands, hugged and cried. The three grandsons were then dragged into the group hug. Mr. Higuchi stood to the side, scratching his head and smiling.
The daughter and her husband were fine, the Higuchis were told. They learned their family's home had been ruined by the tsunami wave shortly after their daughter, the only one home at the time of the earthquake, evacuated and met the rest of her family at the school. The daughter and her husband were there now, seeing if they any of their belongings were salvageable.
"Thank god, thank god, thank god," the four grandparents repeated, wiping away the tears and smiling.
Mr. Higuchi brought his eldest grandson down to the truck to give him one of his favorite drinks. Ryo, wearing the bright blue gym uniform he was wearing when the earthquake hit Friday, opened the Oronamin-C and started to sip.
"We will go meet our daughter now," said Mr. Higuchi, smiling. Asked if he knew the way, he said: "I'm OK now. My grandson is here."
Write to Eric Bellman at email@example.com