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Japanese quake, tsunami leaves many children homeless

In one Japanese town, the tsunami left 100,000 children homeless and took at least one parent from 1,600 school-aged kids.

February 29, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
So many lives in Japan, especially on the northern side of the country, have been changed forever as a result of last year's earthquake and tsunami.

See raw video of the Japan tsunami as the Ofunato seaport is destroyed by waves

The tsunami took away their homes, jobs and loved ones. Today, each day represents an opportunity to regain what was lost.

As we continue our series on the tsunami, one year later, we take you into the devastated city of Kesennuma and show you how residents are adjusting to a much harder life.

It was a beautiful morning in Kesennuma when our boat pushed off and headed out to open water. It gave me an opportunity to get a glimpse of the picturesque seaside community.

But what I saw was a contradiction to the mission we were on. We were on a Coast Guard vessel. As they do every morning, they were searching for bodies.

Some estimates range as high as 5,000 bodies that were never found after the tsunami. All are believed to have been washed out to sea.

Noboru Takahashi, part of the Coast Guard crew still searching for bodies since the tsunami struck, said they had just found one a few weeks ago caught in a fishing net. Many are still out there submerged in cars and debris.

See raw video taken in the seaport of Ofunato during the 2011 Japan 8.9 earthquake

The boat we were on was one of the few that made it through the disaster. Boats of all sizes were scattered miles inland throughout the town.

One huge ship has become an iconic image in Kesennuma. It shows the sheer power of a tsunami lifting the enormous vessel up and dropping it in the middle of land. Some have proposed making a memorial out of the ship, but city leaders say it's just too tragic of a reminder and they've ordered the ship to be dismantled.

Kesennuma is a fishing community, with 85 percent of its economy coming from fishing industry. But 9 of 10 fishermen lost their boats and the fish market was swept away. Needless to say, these are hard economic times.

Even more devastating is the number of homes swept away. Some 350,000 people were left homeless. Many of them live in temporary housing, like the ones erected on a junior high baseball field.

The school children have to adjust. Since the baseball players lost their field, their practice now takes place in a courtyard surrounded by glass.

The school has had to improvise because the kids can't play with a real baseball because it may go through nearby windows. So, they have made their own baseballs by using duct tape, ripping up old newspapers and stuffing that inside the duct tape shell. It makes for a softball of sorts, but when its hit or thrown, it doesn't break anything.

Inside their music hall, they put on a concert for us as an expression of their appreciation. Many of the students lost their instruments in the tsunami. They just received a $25,000 donation from the Asia America Symphony Association of Los Angeles. A special concert in downtown Los Angeles helped raise the money.

In the classroom, there was excitement when the kids saw our cameras and heard we were from Los Angeles. They were only a few months into their English studies, but immediately wanted to show off what they knew. They even showed they are familiar with our president.

Our cameras attracted more than the kids' attention. A Japanese network news crew made the four-hour trip from Tokyo to follow us around as we gathered our stories.

To them, our cameras gave hope that the rest of the world still cares. The question they asked me was if people in the U.S. are still interested in what happened there.

In Japan, the tsunami uprooted 100,000 children from their homes. About 500 children were killed and 1,600 school-aged kids lost at least one parent.

The vast majority of casualties, however, were the elderly who just couldn't move fast enough to escape the tsunami.