“I have never seen anything like this!”
These were the words of Elder Claudio R.M. Costa of the Presidency of the Seventy as he stood and looked at the destruction of the village of Onagawa on the northeast coast of Japan.
He and Sister Margareth Costa traveled to the small town on May 9 as one stop on their trip through Japan. Onagawa was washed almost completely away in the tsunami that made landfall shortly after the 9.0 earthquake that shook the country on March 11. Ten percent of the town — approximately 1,000 people — are dead or missing in the wake of this disaster.
Elder and Sister Costa, traveling with Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Seventy and Asia North Area President, and his wife, Sister Lesa Stevenson, visited the mayor of Onagawa and presented the town with five vans that can be used to transport villagers for shopping, to visit public baths, and to see their doctors.
Elder Stevenson and Takashi Wada, the Area Director of Temporal Affairs, had visited the town earlier to deliver eye glasses and coupons for prescriptions to replace those lost when the tsunami swept away all the homes and possessions of a good part of the population. When they asked the mayor what he needed most, the mayor explained that one of the biggest problems was transportation after so many of the cars in the town had been washed away.
Elder Stevenson offered to provide the vans. Elder Costa made good on that promise during the visit.
Elder Costa walked through a large refugee center where 799 people were living together on the floor of a gymnasium. Each family had a few square feet on the floor with the blankets and clothes received as part of the rescue effort. Each space was sectioned off by cardboard cut into pieces, forming walls and doors which stood about four feet high, offering very little privacy. This has been their home since March 11 and will continue to be home until temporary housing is completed and distributed by lottery over the next few months.
Elder Costa inspected a few of the temporary shelters, finding them small and very basic.
Sisters Costa and Stevenson visited an elementary school where they presented the principal with school bags for the children. The bags were handmade by sisters from Church units throughout Japan.
Elder Costa expressed his disbelief at the devastation in Onagawa as he surveyed the remains of the village — a large boat that had washed up the canyon, cars sitting on top of buildings, and a train that had come to rest on top of a cemetery more than 100 feet above ocean level.
In an effort to provide relief to the victims of what is now called “The Great Earthquake of East Japan,” the Church has made donations to the Japan Red Cross and to three of the prefectures affected by the crisis. It has also purchased supplies and delivered large amounts of donated goods — in excess of 200 tons. Approximately 10,000 Church volunteers have donated around 100,000 hours of service. Elder Costa said, “I will report to the Presiding Bishop that the relief is greatly needed and the money is being well spent.”
While in Japan, Elder Costa also presided over stake conferences in Yokohama and Kumamoto, the Area Mission Presidents Seminar and a mission conference in Sapporo. He and Sister Costa spoke at a fireside in Sendai, near the epicenter of the earthquake, where many members were affected by the disaster. Citing Section 88 of the Doctrine and Covenants, Elder Costa said, “In 1832, the Lord … knew what was going to happen here … and He sent us His message to provide peace to our hearts … and to know better the God that we worship.”
He explained that those who have gone back to His presence have even a greater peace in their hearts.
“The whole world is praying for you. … I can see a bright future here. When we arrived at the station some minutes ago, I saw much life and saw people with a strong desire to go forward and to do their best. I am grateful for your desire to serve the Lord, and I am absolutely sure that the Lord will continue to bless you.”