KESENNUMA, Miyagi Prefecture--A small boat built to carry 12 people is the only ferry service still available for the 3,200 or so residents of Oshima island wanting to reach the mainland.
The island off Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, was badly battered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and the towering tsunami it triggered March 11.
Islanders face shortages of rice, medicine and other essentials.
The earthquake and tsunami, along with fire, damaged almost all of the ferries that were the only link between Oshima and other parts of Kesennuma.
The small boat Himawari is the only means of transport to Oshima right now.
At 8 a.m. one recent day, some 120 people formed a line at Kesennuma port, which itself was devastated by the earthquake and tsunami.
The Himawari makes between three to five round-trips a day to Oshima. While it has an official capacity of 12 passengers, it is not unusual for up to 80 people to board with their belongings to make the approximately 5-kilometer trip from Kesennuma to Oshima in about 20 minutes.
Because the Uranohama port on Oshima is strewn with wrecked ships and parts of houses that were swept away by the tsunami, the Himawari captain said, "I don't know when this boat will also become inoperable."
Oshima is the largest island in the Tohoku region.
Because gasoline is nowhere to be found on the island, residents have to walk to get around.
Yuji Shirohata, 63, is in charge of dealing with disaster measures on the island.
"What we most need right now on the island is boats," he said.
After the March 11 earthquake, tsunami converged from two sides of the island. The waves passed through the central part of the island.
The five car and passenger ferries that were the sole transport link between Oshima and Kesennuma were all lost in the tsunami.
With the island isolated from the outside world, relief supplies were almost non-existent for the first several days. The first real load arrived on March 18, one week after the twin natural disasters.
Islanders normally stock up on food supplies because they are used to bad weather cutting off the ferry service. Residents survived on food stockpiled for emergencies. Pool water was filtered and used as drinking water.
The island still does not have running water, and electricity is available only in parts of the island.
The Self-Defense Forces delivered food supplies a few days ago. For the time being, the islanders have enough to get by on.
Islanders received a welcome visit Sunday morning from a landing craft carrying U.S. Marines from Okinawa who brought with them relief supplies as well as vehicles that will be used by the local electric power company to restore power.
A few company workers were also transported on the landing craft, and parts of the island had power restored later on Sunday.
Shirohata noted that there was a reasonable supply of bread.
But among the elderly, he said: "There are some who will only eat rice. Because both rice and gasoline are heavy, it is difficult to transport such items to an island which lacks boats and cars."
Medicine is also in short supply, and with about 30 percent of the island population made up of senior citizens, some of the elderly have died from exhaustion rather than as a direct result of the disasters.
The lack of transport to the mainland means there is nothing islanders can do about the bodies that wash up on an almost daily basis on the island's shores.
On March 21, residents buried 17 bodies.
Most residents have not left the island because even if they make it over to the mainland, there is no assurance they will be able to return to Oshima by boat.
Although about one-third of islanders used to commute to work or school on the mainland, most have been unable to do so since the earthquake.
The 31 students who graduated from the island's junior high school still don't know if they will be able to attend senior high school from April.
Shirohata said, "Helicopters cannot become a form of transport because of capacity limits. In order to protect the lives of islanders, we need boats that can transport a sufficient number of people and products as soon as possible."
Kesennuma Mayor Shigeru Sugawara said, "We have arranged for a passenger ship that can carry about 90 people. We will deliver it to the island as soon as we can."
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