Sunday, April 3, 2011

The will of a city councilman saved schoolchildren from the tsunami attack

There was a city councilman who kept asking the city to build a bridge as an emergency path for an elementary school on the coastline of Ofunato City, Iwate Prefecture.  It was completed last December.The councilman died of illness nine days before the Tohoku Pacific Offshore


Evacuation path at Okirai Elementary School (center) which was covered with debris swept over by the tsunami. Children seen in the right side of the photo were able to escape through the path to reach up the hill. (at Okirai, Sanriku-Town, Ofunato-City, Iwate-Prefecture, March 28, 2011)
Photo by Makoto Semba

Earthquake, but the students evacuated safe going through this path. Okirai Elementary School is located about 200 meters away from the sea. The three story school building was hit by the tsunami and is now exposing the aftermath of the merciless disaster.

There is a five meter high cliff across the school.  The old evacuation route was to go to the first floor to exit the building and go to the road and to climb up the slope to get to the top of the cliff and proceed to Sanriku Railway Station. 


Mr. Takeshi Hirata, courtesy of his relative

Mr. Takeshi Hirata, a city councilman made a suggestion to build a bridge as an evacuation route for Okirai Elementary School at the meeting of March, 2008.  He wanted the successor to carry this idea until the realization as his will. He thought that if students would have to go downstairs to the first floor, they would not make it; they can evacuate faster if they could go directly to the road from the second floor.

A huge amount of wave-driven debris cover the emergency evacuation path (photo center)
(at Okirai, Sanriku-Town, Ofunato-City, Iwate Prefecture)
Photo by Fumiaki Sonoyama

Per Mr. Hirata’s ardent request, an emergency path was constructed to connect the road on the slope and the second floor of the school building in December, 2010.  When the budged of four million yen for this project was approved, Mr. Hirata was very excited and urged the city to expedite the construction.
On March 11, immediately after the massive earthquake, the total 71 students were able to go up to the road through this emergency path and climb up the hill.  It was instantly after the earthquake when the tsunami came. After that the emergency path with about 10 meter long and 1.5 meter wide was destroyed by the tsunami followed by the earthquake and covered with debris. The enormous tsunami like this was not predicted before and Mr. Hirata’s idea really saved the students’ lives. 

Posted on the, March 29, 2011
Summarized and translated by Makiko Asano

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