Misaki Murakami's Football Lost In Tsunami, Found In Alaska (VIDEO)
TOKYO -- A teenager who lost his home in Japan's devastating tsunami now knows that one prized possession survived: a football that drifted all the way to Alaska.
Officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say the ball with the youngster's name inscribed on it is one of the first pieces of debris from last year's tsunami to wash up on the other side of the Pacific.
A man found the ball while beachcombing on an Alaskan island, and his wife, who is Japanese, talked with its owner, 16-year-old Misaki Murakami, by phone over the weekend. They plan to send the ball back to him soon.
Murakami, from the town of Rikuzentakata, is surprised and thankful the football, or soccer ball, has been found more than 5,000 kilometers (more than 3,000 miles) away.
"It was a big surprise. I've never imagined that my ball has reached Alaska," Murakami told public broadcaster NHK. "I've lost everything in the tsunami. So I'm delighted," he said. "I really want to say thank you for finding the ball."
He was particularly glad because all furniture and sentimental items in his home had been washed away in the March 11, 2011, tsunami, which devastated a long stretch of Japan's northeastern coast and killed about 19,000 people.
The ball, which also had messages of encouragement written on it, was given to him in 2005, when Murakami was in third grade, as a goodbye gift when he transferred to another school.
Debris from the tsunami initially formed a thick mass in the ocean off Japan's northeastern coast and has since spread out across the Pacific. In February, NOAA said currents would carry much of the debris to the coasts of Alaska, Canada, Washington and Oregon between March 2013 and 2014, though they noted that some of it could arrive this year.
Earlier this month, a U.S. Coast Guard cutter fired on and sank a fishing boat in the Gulf of Alaska that had drifted from Japan after the tsunami. Authorities had deemed the ship a hazard to shipping and to the coastline.
David Baxter, a radar technician from Kasilof, Alaska, found Murakami's ball while beachcombing in March on Middleton Island, 110 kilometers (70 miles) south of the Alaskan mainland.
"When I first saw the soccer ball I was excited to see it and I thought it was possible it came from the tsunami zone," Baxter told The Associated Press by email.
Baxter's wife, Yumi, reached Murakami with help from a Japanese reporter. Murakami expressed his gratitude to the couple for "for wanting to take the time to even try to find him," David Baxter said.
The couple plans to visit Japan in May but do not plan to deliver the ball directly to Murakami. They are somewhat reluctant to visit him because they don't want to create too much of a commotion, Baxter said.
Baxter also found a volleyball with Japanese writing on it a couple of weeks later, and NHK reported Monday that its owner was also found – Shiori Sato, 19, from Iwate prefecture (state), which was hit by the tsunami.
The ball had her first name on it, and a viewer called in to the broadcaster to suggest contacting Sato.
"Good heavens!" she told NHK. "I want to say (to the ball) 'Welcome back!' I think it's a miracle."
Associated Press Writer Mari Yamaguchi contributed to this report.
In this combination photo, Tayo Kitamura, 40, kneels in the street to caress and talk to the wrapped body of her mother Kuniko Kitamura, 69, after Japanese firemen discovered the dead body in the ruins of her home in Onagawa, Japan, on March 19, 2011, top, and a newly built home sits at the site of the now-cleared but destroyed area on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
A few homes have been rebuilt in the year since an earthquake and tsunami roared across Japan's coastline, killing 19,000 people. But most communities remain unrecognizable, and their residents' futures uncertain. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
The tsunami that slammed into Japan's coastline one year ago was merciless, sparing little in its path. Homes were reduced to rubble, cars tossed about like toys, and boats -- such as this one photographed in Kesennuma, Japan, on March 28, 2011 -- flung from the sea into streets and onto roofs. The ocean's fury, and the earthquake that preceded it, left around 19,000 people dead, hundreds of thousands homeless, and sparked the worst nuclear crisis the world had seen in a quarter century. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
In this combination photo, Japanese vehicles pass through the ruins of the leveled city of Minamisanriku, Japan, on March 15, 2011, top, four days after the tsunami, and vehicles pass through the same area on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
The earthquake and tsunami, which killed around 19,000 people, delivered one of their worst hits to the once-scenic, blue-collar fishing town of Minamisanriku, Japan, photographed here on March 15, 2011. The wall of water spared little in its path, sweeping away nearly every business and every job, and leaving more than half the town's residents dead or homeless. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
A year after the earthquake and tsunami people across Japan and leveled this town, there are hints of progress _ the main roads are free of debris, and some temporary houses have been built. But many in Minamisanriku, and elsewhere across Japan's battered coastline, remain in a hellish state of limbo. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
In this combination photo, a ship washed away by the tsunami sits in a destroyed residential neighborhood in Kesennuma, northeastern Japan, on March 28, 2011, top, and the same ship sits on the same spot on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
A year after an earthquake and tsunami ravaged the country's coastline and killed around 19,000 people, many of the boats carried inland by the wall of water have been removed. But some, like this one, remain _ providing a stark reminder of nature's fearsome power. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder File)
One year later, more than 3,200 people presumed killed in the earthquake and tsunami have yet to be found. They are among the 19,000 people who lost their lives on March 11, 2011. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
In this combination photo, Japanese residents of Kesennuma, northeastern Japan, pass through a road that was cleared by bulldozer through the ruins of the city on March 17, 2011, six days after the tsunami, top, and people cross the same street on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
In the days after the earthquake and tsunami ravaged Japan's coastal towns, the bulldozers began to arrive, clearing away the rubble that littered the roads, such as this street in Kesennuma, Japan, photographed on March 17, 2011. Those tasked with clearing away the wreckage faced a monstrous task: towering piles of twisted metal and wood, boats perched atop roofs, mountains of family heirlooms, sodden furniture and children's toys. They also faced the grim reality that many of the 19,000 people killed lay entombed in the rubble, waiting to be discovered. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
One year after a powerful tsunami battered Japan and killed around 19,000 people, the streets have been cleared and the wreckage removed from town centers. But the process of destroying all that debris has been slow, with much of it still sitting in huge mountains in temporary holding areas. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
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