OSHIMA ISLAND, Miyagi Prefecture--With no one else to turn to, residents of this island off Kesennuma are banding together to fight a forest fire approaching their largest community.
"We will never allow the fire to burn any more of this island," said a 63-year-old fisherman on Tuesday, having already lost his home and livelihood in his aquaculture floats. He pushed a cart to carry the debris of last Friday's catastrophic earthquake and tsunami.
The man was just one of 200 residents of Oshima island, aged from their teens to their 70s, who joined efforts to clear debris at Uranohama port Tuesday to create a firebelt to stop the quake-triggered blaze from spreading from the forest to residential areas.
The magnitude-9 quake and ensuing tsunami battered the island, a tourist destination known as a "green pearl." It is also called Kesennuma Oshima.
A 300-ton ferry, which connects the island to Kesennuma port in 25 minutes, was washed ashore at Uranohama port, along with other boats, leaving the island cut off from the mainland.
About 300 residents have joined some 60 community firefighters in trying to extinguish the forest fire, which spread from the northern part of the island to the central-western residential area over four days.
Most of them, like the fisherman, had lost their homes to the tsunami. Many said they had been unable to find their relatives.
On Tuesday, a teenage girl was also among those who were carrying wood residue away.
"I decided to join as I was moved to see people who were suffering trying to protect our island," said Satomi Sakai, 18, who was working with her mother. Her 20-year-old sister was still out of contact.
According to volunteer fire fighters, the fire started when heavy oil that had leaked near Kesennuma port caught fire after the quake on Friday.
The fire soon spread to floats used for oyster and scallop farming, and eventually reached the island, about 7 kilometers away.
Support from the firefighters on the mainland was not expected soon, and strong winds stalled fire-fighting helicopters.
"We have managed to prevent the fire from spreading to the community thanks to the unity of the islanders," said Hitoshi Sugawara, 58, chief of the community firefighters.
The fire was getting under control on Wednesday, but details remained unknown.
About 1,000 of the 3,300 residents of the island are being forced to stay at temporary shelters, where they are also working together to support one another.
At Oshima Elementary School, where about 500 evacuees are staying, eight junior high school students were helping to chop onions on Tuesday.
Those at the school cook foodstuffs stored at the island's inns and hotels for distribution to other shelters.
"There is no use just grieving. I will do what I can," said Yumi Endo, 13.
Yumi's grandparents, who were on the island when the quake hit, were still missing.
"I went to see my house. There was nothing left. I am really worried," the student said.
Despite their unity, islanders face a stern reality ahead.
The sea was glittering with leaked oil. Wakame seaweed, once a lucrative crop, was hanging from a utility pole.
Officials of the fishery co-op said the island's fishery industry has almost been wiped out, including the wakame farming that had just come into season.
Sakari Shirahata, 76, lost his two fishing boats.
"Everyone is saying they will give up fishing," the fisherman said in a low voice.
(This article was written by Yusuke Takano and Hajimu Takeda.)
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