News On Japan

Decisive Action at Elementary School Saved 90 Lives in Tsunami

MIYAGI, Mar 11 (News On Japan) - On March 10, 13 years ago, no one knew a disaster would strike the next day. Yet, an elementary school held an assembly warning that an earthquake might occur, saving the lives of 90 children.

Tsunami Hits Elementary School: Actions the Day Before Save 90 Lives

Announcer Rumiko Watanabe: "Here, we see objects toppled by the tsunami, left untouched. And there, it's evident that the tsunami reached near the ceiling of the second floor. Traces of the disaster are preserved everywhere."

The Nakahama Elementary School in Yamamoto Town, Miyagi Prefecture, now preserved as a "disaster relic," was visited by people from all over the country on the 10th.

Visitor from Gunma Prefecture: "I had business in this area, so I took the opportunity to visit and experience the situation firsthand."

17-year-old: "It must have been terrible, the tsunami."

12-year-old: "It must have been really tough."

Visitor from Shiroishi City, Miyagi: "This child wasn't born during the disaster. While she might not understand it timely, I hope she remembers that such an event occurred."

On March 11, 2011, a massive tsunami, originating from the sea about 400 meters away, struck Nakahama Elementary School.

"The large building retains its original shape, but the surrounding houses and roads are completely submerged."

Though the tsunami reached the ceiling of the two-story building, all 90 children and staff were safe, thanks to actions taken the day before the disaster.

The principal at the time, Takeshi Inoue, played a crucial role.

Announcer Watanabe: "Driftwood has washed up here."

Inoue, former principal of Nakahama Elementary School: "I think it's from the pine trees that grew on the coast."

Watanabe: "Desks, chairs, and shoe boxes are also here..."

Inoue: "This is where debris that entered the school building and various tsunamis merged."

The tsunami's scars are evident on the second floor.

Inoue: "The incoming wave hit the wall and rose straight up, causing this ceiling to fall. The second floor was completely submerged. If anyone had been there, they wouldn't have survived."

On that day, the school housed 90 children, staff, and local residents. Inoue decided to evacuate everyone to the rooftop.

Inoue: "The decision on the day was not according to the manual. What's important is regular preparation, which, combined with various factors, led us to the rooftop."

This was Nakahama Elementary School's "evacuation manual" before the disaster. It stated that in case of a tsunami, evacuation should be to the inland junior high school. Inoue made a decision different from the manual, influenced by an earthquake that occurred off the Sanriku coast on March 9.

In response, on March 10, Inoue and the vice principal reviewed the "evacuation manual." Reading the note that it would take at least 20 minutes on foot to reach the inland junior high school, they considered the possibility that evacuation might not be in time.

Inoue: "It's crucial to know that it takes 20 minutes to reach a safe place. In case of a tsunami, if it suddenly comes and there's no time, we go up; if there is, we head inland."

Inoue and his team decided to make flexible decisions about the evacuation destination based on the "expected tsunami arrival time" and shared this information among the staff.

They also called a special all-school morning assembly on March 10, where they addressed the children.

Inoue: "After the earthquake on the 9th, some children weren't wearing their disaster hoods, so I told them, 'There might be another big earthquake, so let's wear our disaster hoods.' The children listened intently."

Then came March 11, the day of the disaster.

Immediately after the massive tremor, a major tsunami warning was issued, with an "expected arrival time" of "10 minutes later." Inoue instantly chose to go to the rooftop. There was no confusion among the staff and children, and the evacuation was completed smoothly. They were safely rescued by the Self-Defense Forces. Looking back on the day before the disaster, Inoue emphasized...

Inoue: "Meetings, time as a standard, holding a temporary morning assembly, and everyone sharing information and raising their sense of crisis. The accumulation of small preparations is very important."

"An Earthquake Might Occur in a Minute" - The Lesson the Principal Wants to Convey

Toshinori Suzuki, one of the children who survived by evacuating to the rooftop, was a sixth-grader at the time. On that day, the children spent the night in the attic storage on the rooftop.

Q: Where were you at the time?

Suzuki (25), former sixth-grader: "I was next to this blue box. Looking back, I do wonder what would have happened to us if we hadn't escaped to this rooftop and had walked to evacuate instead."

It has been 13 years since the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Q: Where was your house, Mr. Suzuki?

Suzuki: "It's on that side where the greenhouse is now built. This whole area used to be mostly houses, but it has become really desolate."

In Yamamoto Town, population outflow and depopulation have become severe since the disaster. Suzuki, who remained in the town and chose the path of a fisherman, wants to support the region's revival as soon as he becomes fully fledged.

Suzuki: "I was saved by that tsunami, so I want to challenge myself to do new things. I want many people to eat the fish I catch, and as the number of fishermen is decreasing, I hope more people will want to become fishermen."

This year, an earthquake with a maximum seismic intensity of 7 occurred on New Year's Day off the Noto Peninsula in Ishikawa Prefecture. Since late February, seismic activity has intensified off the coast of Chiba Prefecture, making further preparation even more necessary.

Inoue: "Four major tsunamis have passed through this school building..."

After retiring, Inoue became a storyteller, continuing to convey the importance of "preparation in advance" to visitors from all over the country.

Inoue: "Preparation for disasters is not a preparation if it's done after they occur. We don't know if a big earthquake might happen in a minute from now, even today."

Source: ANN

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