Four Months After Japan’s Earthquake, Father Still Searches for His Family

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A woman walks amid devastation and debris after a 9.0 magnitude strong earthquake struck off the coast of Japan

The earthquake and tsunami hit Japan four months ago, but Mamoru Oikawa continues to look for his family. (via Los Angeles Times)

The 30-year-old Ishinomaki firefighter knows his wife and daughter can’t be alive, but still spends each day looking for their bodies. His 29-year-old wife, Emi, and their 15-month-old daughter, Atsuki, disappeared on March 11, the day a 9.0-magnitude earthquake devastated the Pacific coastal areas of northeastern Japan, triggering a massive tsunami and humanitarian crisis of epic proportions.

(PHOTOS: Life in Japan’s Evacuation Centers)

For what many would consider a fruitless endeavor, Oikawa spends part of each day searching, carrying only a shovel, chainsaw and three photographs of his wife and daughter. He is often alone, traveling on foot as he scours riverbanks, rice fields, back roads and trails. He looks at the photographs, telling his family: “I’m sorry.”

The disaster hit Oikawa’s farm and fishing community hard, reports the Los Angeles Times. Out of the estimated 8,000 people that are still missing across northeastern Japan, 2,770 hail from Ishinomaki. This town of 160,000 inhabitants also has the highest confirmed death toll of 3,100.

“I’ll still be looking next year, and the year after that,” says Oikawa, whose first name in Japanese means “to protect.”

On March 11, Oikawa received a text message from his wife; she and the baby were at a nearby evacuation center. By the time Oikawa reached the center, the building had washed away.

“I knew they were gone,” he said. “I was dead inside.” Read more of the heartbreaking story at the Los Angeles Times.

MORE: Surviving the Earthquake Aftermath in Japan