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The World

March 29, 2011

Tsunami-swept island cut off from power and water

OSHIMA, Japan — After more than two weeks without a proper bath, some residents on this tsunami-hit island decided to take matters into their own hands.

"My skin is starting to itch," 75-year-old Kumao Nakano said, as his neighbors assembled a makeshift bathhouse. "We're going to use this bathroom, which somehow was left standing. We found this old boiler, so we can heat water and pour it into the bathtub for everyone to use."

Six tsunamis swept onto this island off Japan's devastated northeast coast after the powerful offshore earthquake on March 11. The disaster severed water and electricity from the mainland, and it may be months before they are restored. Survivors from this community of 3,500 are banding together and resurrecting bygone practices to get by.

"I go to the river two or three times a day to get water," said Sayuri Nakayama, 25, nodding toward a steep path at the start of a half-mile trek. She rinsed a pot clean of rice, so she could use it to heat water to wash her one-year-old daughter Elena. Her laundry, scrubbed by hand, hung around her.

Televisions, blow dryers, space heaters lay jumbled amid the splintered wreckage around her, the appliances all quiet now without power.

An old wood-burning stove, dragged into a small clearing with a view of the ocean below, has become the meeting place for this part of the island, known as Isokusa. Residents, many now living on the upper floors of a nearby hotel, sit on logs and feed scraps of their ruined homes into the stove to stay warm.

"The thing I miss most is electricity," said Sadao Komatsu, 61, as he leaned into the heat.

Residents subsisted for a couple of weeks on bread and canned food, but now rice and other staples have begun to arrive by small boat. A large crane on a barge is slowly clearing the main bay of debris, including several houses whose roofs stick out of the water.

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