Tribune-Courier General Manager
Jerry and Carolyn Gray have seen tornado ravaged areas, devastation from flooding and the pain left behind on the faces of the victims of hurricanes. Nothing, however, could have prepared them for what they saw on a recent trip to Tohoko, Japan to assist with the cleanup from the March earthquake and tsunami that destroyed much of the country’s east coast.
The Gray’s of Benton were part of a six-day mission trip with the Baptist Global Response Team, along with five other people. They traveled with the group to do whatever they could to help put the county back together after what they call “the most extensive devastation they have ever witnessed.”
“It was the most massive loss of life and homes I’ve ever seen,” said Carolyn. “There were whole generations of families lost, along with their property that had been passed down for years. You don’t see “For Sale” signs in Japan. They pass down their homes to generation after generation.”
Carolyn said most of those who did survive were out of the area at the time the tsunami hit. Many of them were college students who were studying abroad when their families perished.
Jerry echoed Carolyn’s recollections, saying “Everybody you talked to had lost someone,” he said. “It wasn’t like anything I’d ever seen before. Whole towns were taken out.”
With the help of translators, the Gray’s spoke with many of the Japanese people who were left behind in the disasters struggling to put things back together.
“We met a number of young professionals who had given up their jobs in other countries and other parts of Japan to return to help with the relief effort. Most of them were highly educated and had very good jobs. That’s the kind of people they are. They take family very seriously,” said Carolyn.
The job of the Baptist Global Response team was to assist with the recovery of personal possessions and to search for human remains in the rubble left behind after the quake and tsunami. They did so using kitchen tongs to separate the debris. Carolyn said her team was assigned a very small area where they spent most of their time.
On the second day of the meticulous job of searching for anything left behind, Jerry found what was believed to be human bones that were taken for DNA identification.
Carolyn spent one day of the trip in a day care center where many of the children were orphaned when the tsunami moved through the area. She remembers seeing the children who are traumatized by the loss of parents and other family members.
“Some of the children have not spoken or smiled since it happened,” she said. “It just breaks your heart.”
The Gray’s are always on call for the next disaster. They say they never know when or where they will be needed, but stand ready to assist whenever they are called upon. Earlier in the year, their mission work took them to Alabama after severe floods and they have traveled to Haiti and Louisiana following disasters there.