THE REGION’S chief paramedic has been awarded a national humanitarian medal for assisting in the devastating aftermath of the 2011 Japanese tsunami.
NSW Ambulance Service's Murrumbidgee zone duty operations manager, Eamonn Purcell, was one of just nine Australian paramedics appointed to the Urban Search and Rescue Taskforce in Minamisanriku.
Inspector Purcell spent 10 days assisting in the search for bodies among the ruins of the destroyed city of Tome.
No one had ever seen anything like that, ever.- Eamonn Purcell.
“No one had ever seen anything like that, ever,” Inspector Purcell said.
“The town itself was supposedly inhabited by between 10,000 and 15,000 people, and 10,000 were reported missing.”
The crew, who flew over just two days after the tsunami struck on March 11, spent their time trying to gain access to ruined buildings and search for any signs of life.
While most bodies were caught up in washed-up oyster nets and dragged out by the powerful body of water, just three were found by the taskforce.
Japan had been hit by multiple earthquakes before, but the magnitude 9 one that struck was its worst in recorded history.
The tsunami that ensued killed more than 15,000 people living in villages dotting the Japanese coastline.
Mr Purcell said a tsunami evacuation centre in Tome – developed when the town was re-built after a tsunami destroyed it in 1945 – was destroyed, with water gushing through the top floor.
“The wave came in and out, in and out, so it washed over whole area three of four times,” Inspector Purcell said.
Recovery efforts were then hampered by the explosion of the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
For his efforts, Inspector Purcell received a Humanitarian Overseas Service Medal, awarded for emergency humanitarian service overseas in hazardous circumstances in response to natural disasters.
But the humble paramedic said the experience itself far outweighed the recognition.
“It was a privilege to go,” Inspector Purcell said.
“It was an amazing experience to go, but it’s also nice to be awarded.”
Inspector Purcell is planning to return to the city with his family ahead of the five-year anniversary
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