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B.C. expertise helping rebuild Japanese communities

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by Russell Hixson last update:Jul 31, 2014

BY RUSSELL HIXSON - B.C. wood construction leaders are still helping rebuild Japanese communities devastated by a tsunami in early 2011.
The Yuriage Public Market was completed and opened May 2013. Project organizers said rebuilding the market was critical for the economics of the region. The original structure was destroyed in the 2011 tsunami.
The Yuriage Public Market was completed and opened May 2013. Project organizers said rebuilding the market was critical for the economics of the region. The original structure was destroyed in the 2011 tsunami. - Photo: Coast Forest Products Association

"After the tsunami there was a feeling that something should be done," said B.C. Wood CEO Brian Hawrysh.

After about a year, federal and provincial governments along with the forest industry were able to put together $4.5 million to fund building projects, collectively called the Canada Tohoku Reconstruction Project.

There have been dozens of proposals submitted.

Four were chosen and three have been completed.

The first finished project was the Donguri Anne Library, a small library in Natori City, Miyagi Prefecture.

The second was the Yuriage Market in Natori City.

Before the tsunami, it was the largest fish and farmers market in Tohoku, attracting about 600,000 visitors a year.

Hawrysh said the damage to the market not only crippled the local economy, but was a blow to the fabric of the community.

Five of the market vendors and 10 of their family members were killed.

Canada Wood general manager Barry Ford called the new market "a mini Granville Island."

Hawrysh explained that the market is critical for the economics of the region.

The third finished project was the Oranda Jima House in Yamada, Iwate Prefecture, which now serves as an after-school care facility and grief counselling centre for children affected by the disaster.

Canada Wood partnered with a group of Dutch businesses and architects for the project.

Construction is set to begin next on the fourth and final community building, the Jericho Support Centre for the Disabled in Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture.

It is scheduled for completion by January 2015.

The centre will provide rehabilitation and training services for children with physical and mental disabilities in the Tohoku region.

Following the tsunami and ensuing Fukushima nuclear crisis more than 1,000 patients with physical and mental disabilities were evacuated from the nuclear exclusion zone and tsunami-hit communities.

Ford has been involved in marketing and selling B.C. products in Japan for 30 years.

He said rather than donating items or money, the industry wanted to do something lasting and significant.

But, while clean-up efforts and construction projects have gone well so far, Ford said the country still has a long way to go in terms of rebuilding.

"Some of the basic infrastructure has been rebuilt but housing is still a long way from taking people out of temporary shelters," Ford said.

He added that many of the coastal communities are considering undertaking daunting projects such as raising dikes or relocating inland.

He said the lasting impact of the devastation is why Canada Wood has stuck with its rebuilding efforts for years while the media has moved on.

"These projects have kept us aware of their reality," Ford said.

"It's no longer front page and, when it's no longer front page, it's out of people's minds. These projects have kept it fresh in our minds."

Hawyrsh noted that the projects were also an opportunity to highlight the wood frame technology, western red cedar, coastal hemlock, Douglas fir, prefabricated timber frames and panels, and platform frame construction products that B.C. has to offer.

"It was a good thing to do and I think it was appreciated by our friends and it demonstrates what Canadians can do," Hawyrsh said.

The projects have received praise from government officials, including Joe Oliver, Canada's minister of finance and former minister of natural resources.

"Canada is proud to contribute to the reconstruction of important community buildings that were damaged or lost following the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami," Oliver said in a release regarding the Jericho project.

last update:Jul 31, 2014

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