Ninette man helps rebuild damaged homes in Japan (December 16, 2011)

Written by Kim Langen

Published by The Killarney Guide on Friday, December 16, 2011

When a 9.0 earthquake and tsunami hit hard on the east coast of Japan last March, many people lost all they owned and loved within moments.

But a local carpenter from Ninette has been helping some of them rebuild their homes this fall. He says he just couldn't stop himself when Samaritan's Purse Canada asked him to lend a hand. And he couldn't believe the destruction he witnessed when he arrived on the main island of Japan in October.

"Whole villages were gone," said Klassen. "When the wave came in, it was 10 feet high. It would go in for one or two miles, and it was as though the ocean had risen 30 feet or so as it came inland because it was coming up in between the mountains and increasing in height with the pressure, sometimes up to 100 feet. As it came in it took out some houses, and they were totally swept away. And as it goes back, there were some that were badly damaged and beyond repair. But there were a few houses that were partially damaged, and these were the ones that we could fix."

Along with a team of five other volunteer carpenters, Klassen spent a month working in small coastal villages, helping t rebuild seven of these homes, and completing other projects to restore some structural life to the devastated inhabitants who remained.

"One couple had saved up for 34 years to have their home built two years earlier," said Klassen. "It was gone. It was so destroyed. In another house, guys found a fish upstairs in the attic - that's how high the water went. We would see three-storey concrete buildings that had tipped over, and the foundation pillars were sticking up in the air."

The earthquake hit the northeastern area of Japan's main island on March 11, 2011, near the port city of Sendai and home to one million residents. It was the largest earthquake recorded in Japan in the last century, and it triggered a tsunami that devastated parts of the country's coastal regions. A tsunami behaves more like a tide than a breaking wave, and these roaring, high water events can occur in a 'wave train,' lasting for minutes or hours.

Klassen said that a clean-up crew would initially prepare the sites for the Samaritan's Purse gang, taking out truckloads of ruined drywall, insulation, and flooring, and often removing a foot or more of mud from under the floorboards. Then the carpenters swept in to rebuild.

"We split up into groups, and worked on different houses, and moved around different villages," said Klassen. "Local people brought us cookies, and tea, and soup. They were just so appreciative; it was wonderful. You can't imagine their lives - they lose their house, their job, their car and their pets. They have to live on credit, maybe stay in a hotel. They run out of money, and they lose their credit rating - they lose everything."

Samaritan's Purse Canada is operated through the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association of Canada. Other programs include Operation Christmas Child (organizing shoe boxes of gifts), IF - Women's Projects (promoting literacy, maternal health, life skills, and combating trafficking and prostitution), and Turn on the Tap (water improvement projects).

Klassen has helped with other volunteer projects around the world over the years, including assignments in Nicaragua, Kosovo, Mexico, four African countries, and in the U.S. during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. A self-employed contractor carpenter (he operates Farout Construction in Ninette), he says he can always find time to help others. And he has seen plenty of the world and her peoples as he has done so. He thinks Canadians don't know how lucky they are.

"I have got the absolute perfect life - perfect kids, perfect grandkids," he said. "I have such a good life that God gave me, how can I not go and help someone else? How can I say 'no'? It's just a Christian thing - we help everyone whoever they are and whatever they believe."