NEW YORK (CBS 2) — He was at ground zero after 9/11 and after the earthquake hit Haiti. Now, a former New York City firefighter says he just had to go to Japan.
Tommy Clarke is determined to help those in need.
Clarke, an FDNY firefighter in the 1980s, once again is using the skills he learned to help in a disaster. Wearing the overalls he wore at ground zero after 9/11, the 50-year-old paid his own expenses to try to make a difference in tsunami-ravaged Japan.
“Total carnage, that’s what brings me here. Having been through 9/11 and Haiti, when I see it on TV it’s not an option. It’s not like, well, should I go or shouldn’t I go? It’s like, I’m going and how am I gonna do it?” Clarke told CBS 2′s Dana Tyler.
But after arriving two weeks ago at the disaster in Sendai, he spent the first days trying to be accepted.
“I had to beg basically to help. I slept at the bus station that night waiting for a cancellation the next morning. When I showed up at the Red Cross station they couldn’t believe I had actually made it there,” Clarke said.
The Staten Island native retired to Minnesota more than 20 years ago. His wife, Jodi, said seeing the tragedy of 9/11 in his hometown, he came back to volunteer with the FDNY. Then, last year, he offered his expertise in Haiti for a month after the horrific earthquake. Now Japan, where Clarke once again broke out his trusted tool belt and turnout coat.
“It can be pretty terrifying. You don’t know what you’re going to find. Anything is a possibility here,” he said.
He said the devastation is heartbreaking for him. The tsunami left a tangled and endless mass of debris.
“House after house for miles … these poor people,” Clarke said.
There’s no estimate of the unofficial number of volunteers in Japan, but Clarke said he never loses hope that he’s there for a reason.
“We didn’t find any cadavers, but we didn’t find any live people. We’re hooting for a miracle. We’re not going to give up until the day we leave,” he said.
Clarke’s wife told Tyler he’ll return home on April 5. She said though he rushes to horrible scenes as a volunteer, she believes he’s doing God’s work and that God will take care of him in danger.
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