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Tsunami survivors: Starting a family and facing an uncertain future

Kuni Takahashi for msnbc.com

Koya Takahashi, left, and his wife, Megumi, play with their son, Nagato at their house in Minamisanriku, Miyagi prefecture, Japan, Feb 26, 2012. Nagato was born six days after the massive earthquake and tsunami hit northern Japan on March 11, 2011, sweeping away many coastal towns including Minamisanriku.

Jim Seida / msnbc.com

Koya Takahashi, his wife Megumi and their three-month-old baby, Nagato, on June 13, 2011.

Kuni Takahashi for msnbc.com

Megumi Takahashi, left, and her husband, Koya, and their son, Nagato on Feb 26, 2012.

Kuni Takahashi reports:

Koya Takahashi and his wife, Megumi, were expecting their first child in Minamisanriku, Japan, on March 11, 2011, the day the tsunami struck. Their son, Nagato, wasn’t born until five days later, after Megumi was flown to a Red Cross hospital in nearby Ishinomaki. Following his birth, they moved to Megumi’s parents’ house in Iriya, about 3 miles uphill from their house, which was not damaged but had no water or electricity for some time.

“The difficulties we faced were the lack of water and electricity and that the hospital was more than an hour away by car,” Megumi said. “At night, I was using small solar-powered flashlight from an NGO to make milk and feed Nagato. Also, every day there were so many after-shocks and it was quite scary.”

But in those early days, there was help. “There were many things that I didn’t know because it was my first baby,” said Megumi. “Volunteer nurses from all over Japan came to the area, providing assistance. It was very helpful -- materially and mentally.”

Koya, who worked as a truck driver, lost his job after the tsunami because so many trucks were swept away. He eventually got a job at a construction site, but then broke his ankle.  Since his recovery, he has been working as a dump truck driver, hauling debris from towns affected by the disaster. In August, they were able to move back into their home after services were restored.

“Too many things happened last year,” Koya said. “Having a baby is one big change, but the job situation has been tough. I was carrying debris out of my town and it slowly became very stressful. Especially when I found some children’s toys and clothes in debris. It was very difficult for me. I felt more sensitive to the things like that after becoming a father.”

“Over the time, the stress built up and I became mentally unstable,” he said. “I often quarreled with my wife. It was getting harder so I quit that job and got another one driving in Ishinomaki (about 30 miles away). I still drive in the disaster-affected areas, but at least it’s not my hometown.”

“As a father, my priority is to feed my family. No matter what, I have to keep working and earning,” he continued. “Since I commute a longer distance now, I have less time to see my son. I try to play with him as much as possible when I have time. We try to go shopping together every Sunday.”

Looking to the future, Koya said, “I would like to raise my son here in Minamisanriku, but I have concerns as well. Because of the tsunami, communities are broken and lots of families have moved out.  The town’s population has been decreasing and the number of children in school is far less than before.  We are worried that whether there will be enough schools, teachers and friends for my son in five or 10 years.”

“To be honest, sometimes I feel down, but I regain my energy when I see my son’s face. His smile makes me stronger and stronger. He is a strong kid because he was born in such a difficult time.”

Kuni Takahashi for msnbc.com

Koya Takahashi, his wife, Megumi and their son, Nagato, look out the window of their house in Minamisanriku, Feb 26, 2012.