Image: The laundry of residents of Oshima island dry on a line as they carry Japanese tatami mats
David Guttenfelder  /  AP
Residents of Oshima island put out laundry to dry on Oshima island, which was hit by six tsunamis after the powerful offshore earthquake on March 11.
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updated 3/29/2011 5:51:30 AM ET 2011-03-29T09:51:30

After more than two weeks without a proper bath, some residents on this tsunami-hit island decided to take matters into their own hands.

"My skin is starting to itch," 75-year-old Kumao Nakano said, as his neighbors assembled a makeshift bathhouse. "We're going to use this bathroom, which somehow was left standing. We found this old boiler, so we can heat water and pour it into the bathtub for everyone to use."

Six tsunamis swept onto this island off Japan's devastated northeast coast after the powerful offshore earthquake on March 11.

The disaster severed water supplies and electricity from the mainland, and it may be months before they are restored.

Survivors from this community of 3,500 are banding together and resurrecting bygone practices to get by.

"I go to the river two or three times a day to get water," said Sayuri Nakayama, 25, nodding toward a steep path at the start of a half-mile trek. She rinsed a pot clean of rice, so she could use it to heat water to wash her one-year-old daughter Elena. Her laundry, scrubbed by hand, hung around her.

Televisions, blow dryers, space heaters lay jumbled amid the splintered wreckage around her, the appliances all quiet now without power.

An old wood-burning stove, dragged into a small clearing with a view of the ocean below, has become the meeting place for this part of the island, known as Isokusa.

Residents, many now living on the upper floors of a nearby hotel, sit on logs and feed scraps of their ruined homes into the stove to stay warm.

"The thing I miss most is electricity," said Sadao Komatsu, 61, as he leaned into the heat.

Staples arriving by boat
Residents subsisted for a couple of weeks on bread and canned food, but now rice and other staples have begun to arrive by small boat.

A large crane on a barge is slowly clearing the main bay of debris, including several houses whose roofs stick out of the water.

Reiko Kikuta, 45, stood on the shore and watched as two yellow tractors tried to pull her two-story home out of the sea with thick ropes threaded through holes in the roof.

"The third tsunami carried my house away," she said. Her family sold fish to hotels and restaurants in the area. "We've moved into our warehouse for now."

Many families relied on the ocean for their income, raising seaweed, scallops and oysters.

This year's crop has been ruined, along with most of the boats and equipment. The streets are littered with smashed oysters, and nets and buoys hang from trees along the shore.

"My house and my boat were insured. But you can't insure boiling pots and other equipment," said Akira Sugawara, 46, as he hand pumped water from his well.

The timing of the disaster was especially painful for him and others, as it came a week before they were to harvest this year's crop of "wakame," a seaweed widely used in Japanese salads and soups.

Sugawara, whose family has lived on the island for more than 200 years, estimates he has lost 100 million yen ($1.2 million) in product and supplies.

Most fishermen have some gear left and, by mixing and matching, they may be able to assemble enough to raise a small crop jointly, Yukio Onodera said. "We're going to combine what we have and work together for a year or two. It's impossible to do it alone."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: After Japan's earthquake and tsunami - week 8

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  1. A radiation measuring instrument is seen next to some residents in Kawauchimura, a village within the 12- to 18-mile zone around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, on April 28. Most residents of Kawauchimura have evacuated in order to avoid the radiation, but some remain in the area of their own accord. (Koichi Kamoshida / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A brazier heats the house of Masahiro Kazami, located within a 12-mile radius of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, April 28. (Koichi Kamoshida / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Volunteers help clean a cemetery at Jionin temple in Ishinomaki, Miyagi prefecture, northeastern Japan, on April 29. Many volunteers poured into the disaster-hit region at the beginning of the annual Golden Week holiday. (Hiro Komae / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Japanese government adviser Toshiso Kosako is overcome with emotion during a news conference on April 29 in Tokyo announcing his resignation. The expert on radiation exposure said he could not stay on the job and allow the government to set what he called improper radiation limits for elementary schools in areas near the tsunami-damaged Fukushima nuclear plant. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Fuel rods are seen inside the spent fuel pool of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant reactor 4 on April 30. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. A volunteer girl from Tokyo works to clean the debris of a house in Higashimatsushima, northern Japan, on April 30. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Farmer Tsugio Sato tends to his Japanese pear trees in Fukushima city, May 1. He said he expects to harvest the pears in October. Farmers and businesses face so-called "fuhyo higai," or damages stemming from the battered reputation of the Fukushima brand. (Hiro Komae / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Members of Japan Ground Self-Defense Force in protective gear receive radiation screening in Minamisoma in Fukushima prefecture, after searching for bodies at an area devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Ruriko Sakuma, daughter of dairy farmer Shinji Sakuma, rubs a cow at their farm in the village of Katsurao in Fukushima prefecture on May 3. Thousands of farm animals died of hunger in the weeks following the quake. (Yoshikazu Tsuno / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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Video: American recalls quake, tsunami in Japan

  1. Closed captioning of: American recalls quake, tsunami in Japan

    >>> amid the tragedy in japan, back at home we witness a joyful family reunion with a u.s. teacher and her family who had reached out to nbc for help. after the march 11th disaster, she was left stranded in the japanese village where that tsunami called immense damage. amazingly, nbc 's ann curry found purdy at a refugee center and put her in touch with her family. she's back home and joins us live. cannon, nice to speak to you. glad you're back home. i'm a bay area product and i know it made big headlines back at home as well. can you talk to us about what your experience has been in the time since and what your experience was there in the weeks since we last saw you?

    >> yeah, sure. it's great to be back, although it was great to be there. i have really good friends in that community, and my students were there. so although it was a tragedy, it was also good to be there with them.

    >> g can you give us a sense of exactly where you were when that tsunami hit, how you found out about it? clearly you felt the earthquake, but how did you learn the tsunami was coming and how did you escape it where so many people in that area were unable to?

    >> i was actually at the junior high school which was up on a high rock in the town, so after the earthquake, the tsunami warnings came and we evacuated to the gym and the townspeople also evacuated to the school. i was inside when the tsunami actually hit. but maybe about ten minutes after it -- i ges it hit i went out to see it and i saw it in the valley.

    >> you were introduced to americans in what was a pretty remarkable moment when our colleague at nbc , ann curry , came upon you in that sort of refugee camp telling you your family was looking for you, handing you her phone so you could speak to them. can you take us into your head at that moment when you had a chance to finally speak to home?

    >> yeah. it was really surprising to not only see, you know, these americans but also to hear my sister's name. we had kind of given up hope of communication for a little while since nothing was available. so it was a great relief to talk to my family and to know that the story was getting out to the whole world.

    >> you were in minamisanriku. you had an extraordinary experience. it was a tragedy for so many people in that region but we're glad you're home safely and it's privilege to speak to you, canon.

Interactive: Japan before and after the disaster

These aerial photos show locations in Japan before and after the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami that struck March 11. Use the slider below the images to reveal the changes in the landscape.

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