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Finding the School

As I said, we don’t know what we will find at the school or if we can even find what is left of the school or its staff.


Finally we arrive and are directed to a small house–one of the few structures still standing. Inside we are welcomed by the principal and one of the teachers. We explain that I have come from the States to help rebuild their school and I hand him the drawings from Arbor School children. Clearly these American children have now touched hearts with these people as the principal reads “Help is on the way.”

Over the next hour our volunteers map out a plan of what is needed and begin taking a human inventory of the children’s ages and possible medical needs. One six-year old boy is brought to our medical volunteer because he can’t hear. During the disaster, he slipped from his father’s arms and luckily his father was able to step on him and hold him to the ground under water until one of the waves passed. Somehow he lost his hearing but he is alive. I can’t see to get a smile from him for this photo. Another boy is quite ill having swallowed and inhaled a large amount of sand and seawater. The available medical help so far has not addressed this level of care. Later we meet up with a team of Australian and Danish doctors (accompanied by a Vietnamese monk who runs a monastery in San Jose–I’ll catch up to him later in the States) and direct them to the two boys.


After the meeting, I ask the principal to take me for a walk and show me exactly where the school buildings were because I can’t tell. We walk over to a large area of sand about a half mile inland. He says we are standing on the site of the main building. But there is nothing here–I ask again thinking I’ve have missed something in translation. Again I get the same answer and again I ask. Then he shows me this old damaged photo (still wet with smelly sea water) of the old building.


It is gone–without a trace–no foundation left, no debris of any kind–absolutely nothing!


He shows me a tree where I can see the red colored leaves some 25 to 30 feet up–this was the high water line. The largest wave took the entire building, the entire library and left behind an eight foot crater of sand as if a building never existed. He says there are about 30 cars and trucks that have also vanished without a trace.


And of course there are many severely damaged vehicles but their owners cannot be found. We walk over to what looks like part of a foundation–this was the site of a new school building that was supposed to open in January. School started on January 17th under some tarps and tents but there are no books and no school supplies.

Carsten Henningsen