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Year Later, Tsunami Survivors Continue to Persevere

New America Media | 3/11/2012, 5:07 p.m.

In all, Sakata said six out of the 1,800 students that attend the university died during the disaster -- many while attempting to save aged or disabled family members. Sakata said he was "very proud of these students," and noted their relatively high survival rate when compared to the numbers of victims in the town.

"The reason why many students survived is a matter to study seriously, because many students' homes were located in areas that were very heavily damaged," Sakata said. "Their decision-making skills or actions may have helped them."

Crippling Effects During the Aftermath of the Disaster

One of the most crippling effects during the immediate aftermath of the tsunami and earthquakes was the severe loss of major utilities, including electricity, water and natural gas. Although the city was able to quickly supplement the loss of these essential utilities, other local governments, including Osaka and Niigata, strongly supported these efforts by immediately sending supplies to Ishinomaki and other devastated areas.

Three 83-kilowatt generators powered the university -- making it one of the few places in town where people could access electricity -- and it was restored nearly three weeks after the disaster. In addition, water was supplied by trucks owned by the city on a 10-ton ration per day until the water line was restored on April 4 -- nearly one month after the disaster. Of the town's major utilities, natural gas was hit the hardest, since the company and its storage port in Sendai were severely damaged by the earthquakes and tsunami. In fact, natural gas lines were only restored in mid-December.

Although automobiles played a large role in helping some people escape from the incoming tsunami, the same vehicles were also flammable due to the large amount of gasoline in their tanks, and posed an added threat to the disaster survivors. Satellite images taken of Ishinomaki on the day after the disaster revealed grey smoke patches rising from automobile fires that were scattered throughout the town. During the tsunami itself, these same cars became dangerous projectiles that hit anything in their path, including homes, buildings and people.

"Three or four days after March 11, I went back to my house," Sato said. "Since my house was new, I thought that my house was still standing, but there was a big fire around my neighborhood with the tsunami. My hometown looked like an 'after the war' picture that I saw in a textbook. Nothing was left. I just saw the foundation of my house."

The city's entire city center was flooded, which left the city hall isolated from the rest of the town. The city's mayor, Hiroshi Kameyama, was in Sendai for official business on the day of the disaster, but he was unable to return to the Ishinomaki town hall, and stayed at the town's Red Cross hospital, which was one of the few large buildings that were still intact in the town. He finally reached the town hall by canoe the following day.

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