Year Later, Tsunami Survivors Continue to Persevere
New America Media | 3/11/2012, 5:07 p.m.
ISHINOMAKI, Japan -- As students bustled through the many hallways, corridors and buildings at Ishinomaki Senshu University in December 2011, tangible reminders of the Great East Japan Earthquake were difficult to find on the hilltop campus, which escaped much of the damage caused by the earthquake and tsunami that struck nine months earlier.
Many of the minor cracks to the interior portions of the school's buildings have been repaired, but for those who were on the campus in the days and months after the disaster, many of the emotional scars still remain.
"The water started to push the poles, cars, houses and people," said Maiko Sato, a third-year business administration major, who fled from her seaside home with her grandmother when the tsunami hit. "People disappeared all of a sudden. It was like a movie scene. I just had to keep running, because the tsunami came to the high place where I thought it was safe. Some people said, 'Help me,' but I could not, and I kept running."
Takashi Sakata, an agricultural chemistry professor at Ishinomaki Senshu University, explained that many students were at home when the disaster struck, during the university's spring vacation. However, he noted that some graduate students and faculty members were conducting research on the campus at the time of the disaster on March 11, 2011.
Sakata, who was attending an academic conference in Sapporo (on Hokkaido) at the time of the 9.0-magnitude earthquake, said an independent broadcast system ordered campus employees, students, and community members to evacuate to the first floor school cafeteria. The campus subsequently lost electrical power and tsunami warnings were broadcast on the radio. People then evacuated to the third floor of the university's central building near the campus entrance.
While the university and the surrounding homes near the campus were spared, a five-minute drive to the city's waterfront area quickly reveals a striking contrast to the campus area's clean and pristine atmosphere. The first floors of many homes in the area now reveal the skeleton-like structure of their support system after being completely gutted by the powerful waves -- some of which are leaning to the side, and barely able to support the second level of the homes.
Although the second floors of these homes may still be intact, many of them are uninhabitable because of compromised structures. Large, pyramid-structures of sorted debris now sit on stripped areas of land that large industrial factories used to dominate.
In these areas, the human losses were the highest. In Ishinomaki, Sakata said nearly 40 percent of the city's 60,000-household population sustained a heavy amount of damage to their homes -- most of which was concentrated on the first floor. Of the nearly 162,000 people who lived in Ishinomaki prior to the earthquake, 4,000 people either lost their lives or are still missing -- a rate that accounts for nearly 2.5 percent of the city's entire population. However, in other towns, the death rate was much higher. In the nearby town of Onagawa, which is located to the north of Ishinomaki, nearly 10 percent of the town's entire population was killed during the disaster.