Washington and Oregon assist Alaska with tsunami debris

SEATTLE, Wash. - A barge packed with 500,000 pounds of debris from Japan's 2011 tsunami is unloading in Seattle and will soon make its way to Oregon. It's part of a large effort to clean up Alaska.

Everything on the barge was plucked from the shores of Alaska by a dedicated member of a cleanup crew.

"This is all really difficult physical labor one piece at a time," said Chris Pallister, Gulf of Alaska Keeper.

Most of the debris is Styrofoam and plastic floats. Some of it is personal belongings of people who perished in the tsunami.

"For me, as a parent, the worst thing I can find is infant shoes on the beach. And that just tears me up when I see that," Pallister said.

Those who led the massive shoreline cleanup are grateful to waste management for allowing this shipment to dock in Seattle when there was no available recycling site in Alaska.

"We would have been lost because we literally didn't have any other options for dealing with the magnitude of this debris," said Janna Stewart, tsunami marine debris coordinator.

Seattle will also play an important role in transforming these remnants of tragedy into something positive.

"Now maybe the most difficult part is in front of us. Trying to figure out what we can do with all this stuff," Pallister said.

In a few weeks, a team of local volunteers will dig into all 3,400 "supersacks" on the barge to sort out everything that can be recycled. It's the final stage of an effort that's been underway for more than two years, backed by a $1 million donation from the Japanese government.

Cleanup leaders estimate another 50 million pounds of tsunami debris remains on Alaska's shoreline. They hope this relatively small portion leads to an even greater commitment to pick up the rest.

"The big hope is this kind of project can explain to people how massive it is and we'll get more attention and we'll be able to accomplish more," Pallister said.

Volunteers in Washington will return what they can and then recycle and throw away the rest. The trash will then be sent on a train to a waste management facility in Arlington, Ore.

close video ad
Unmutetoggle ad audio on off