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Debris on America's beaches reminder of tsunami's power.

At his rural home in the woods, long-time Forks, Washington resident John Anderson is photographed with hundreds of buoys used in Japanese oyster farms. Since the tsunami, he has seen a big increase in the number of Japanese buoys washing up on Olympic Peninsula shores. By Hal Bernton From a distance, John Anderson thought he had spotted another plastic float, like the hundreds he has gathered since debris from the Japanese tsunami began washing ashore along the Northwest coast of the United States.

He got closer, reaching behind a log last spring to discover one of the most memorable finds in three decades of beachcombing: a volleyball covered with inked Japanese inscriptions. Some of the writing, faded by the sun, was illegible. Other characters, once Anderson scraped away barnacles, were surprisingly clear.

"This was a shocker," said Anderson. "I wondered whose ball it was, and whether they were still alive." On March 12, 2011, a 9.0 earthquake off the coast of Japan triggered a powerful tsunami that killed nearly 19,000 people as it transformed large swaths of coastal communities into giant debris fields.

Survivors' cellphone videos captured the terrifying movements of the ocean as dark raging waters -- filled with boats, houses and cars -- pushed onshore. Here in the Pacific Northwest, those images also were powerful reminders of the tsunamis that have struck our coasts in centuries past and are predicted to hit again.

Two years later, large areas of shoreline in Japan have been largely cleared of rubble, yet flotsam that has made a trans-Pacific journey continues to wash up on US and Canadian coasts, and federal officials predict this debris will continue to sporadically pulse on to beaches for years to come.

So far, only 21 items have been definitively declared tsunami debris by US and Canadian officials who -- with the help of the Japanese consulates -- have been able to identify owners.

They include a motorcycle, a plastic tote and a 65-foot-long stretch of dock from the city of Misawa that lodged along a remote stretch of Olympic Peninsula shoreline in December. In the coming weeks, that dock will be cut up and hauled away by helicopter in a $628,000 salvage effort largely financed by the Japanese government.

"We don't like to leave a mess," said Tomoko Dodo, acting consulate general in Seattle for Japan, which has donated $5mn to debris clean-up in the US and another $1mn in Canada. "(US officials) say it is not our fault, and we agree with them. ... I think that it is a goodwill gesture. We want to show the US our gratitude for the support we received from your country during the tsunami." A handful of items have been returned to Japan in the past year for long-shot reunions with owners. A yellow buoy retrieved in Alaska was emblazoned with a large Japanese character, Kei, and traced to Sakiki Miura, a widow who had used the float as part of a sign for a restaurant destroyed in the tsunami.

Last June, Miura was overjoyed to regain the buoy, and decided to reopen the restaurant.

"Kei-Chan has returned," she tearfully declared, according to a report published in The Asahi Shimbun.

Anderson, of the Forks area, is planning to return to Japan this summer with filmmakers producing a tsunami documentary entitled Lost & Found, and hopes to reunite the volleyball with its owner.

So far, a translator's review of the inscriptions found a few partial names, and well-wishes that make it appear the volleyball was a farewell gift, possibly to a graduating student, from other team members.

"I'm sure you will have a great life," said one inscription.

"I sincerely wish you the best of luck in your new endeavour," said another.

But so far, no owner has been identified.

"There have got to be other teams that they played that would recognise those names from somewhere that didn't get wiped out -- you would think so," Anderson said.

Two Washington kayakers who surveyed the coast last summer found a soccer ball with an inscription that was traced to a team in a town on the northeast coast.

During one of their survey trips, they also came upon an eerie scene: a pile of house timbers that contained a child's potty, a bottle of cough syrup, a laundry hamper and a piece of a washing machine.

"It was one of those slowly developing things. We realised, we were in someone's bathroom ... in someone else's house," recalls Ken Campbell, a kayaker who has produced a documentary about their surveys, which is called The Roadless Coast.

Federal and state officials caution that it is difficult -- and often impossible -- to figure out just what debris came from the tsunami, and what is part of the broader stew of plastics and other items carried by Pacific currents toward the Northwest coast, where some blows ashore and the rest head in gyres that loop south along the West Coast and north up to Alaska.

For Anderson, through decades of beachcombing, the ocean's marine debris has yielded plenty of treasures, which have been put on impressive display at his homestead just outside Forks.

In his front yard, a towering beachcomber's monument made up of thousands of floats rises like some kind of maritime totem pole. In an upstairs loft, his museum includes Saki bottles thrown out of ships, Nike shoes and thousands of other items.

All this on the beach has given Anderson a keen sense of the yearly ebbs and flows of marine debris. Within the past 18 months, the pace of his beachcombing finds has picked up dramatically, with many items that appear likely to have come from Japan.

Recently on a stroll along Second Beach near La Push, Anderson's found a chunk of what once appeared to be a dock, house beams with the notches typical of Japanese construction, a black float of the type used by Japanese oyster farms and bottles bearing Japanese markings.

Trapped within the driftwood, Anderson found hunks, pellets and slivers of blue, yellow and white foam insulation, which were among the first objects to arrive more than a year ago and continue to show up on the beaches. "I've seen pockets of Styrofoam packed 2ft deep," Anderson said. "Before the tsunami, I never saw anything like that." -- The Seattle Times/MCT

Gulf Times Newspaper 2013

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Publication:Gulf Times (Doha, Qatar)
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Mar 25, 2013
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