It’s already two weeks now and the world media’s attention has moved on, to Libya, Bahrain… but stories are still coming out of the earthquake tragedy. Every day the totals of confirmed dead and missing both go up, and it looks as if we’ll be passing 30,000 soon. Whole families have been wiped out, with no-one left to report the loss, so it will take a long time to get the full figures. By comparison, while close to 20,000 people are now being searched for, at this same time after the Kobe earthquake the figure was about 55.
So three stories that were on the radio and TV here, out of the thousands there must be. The saddest one first.
A small town built a brand new evacuation centre about two years ago, at a cost of some 5 million dollars. A two-storey building on an elevated site that would survive a substantial tsunami. Local people were trained to head there in the event of an earthquake, with regular drills, so that when the 3/11 quake hit everyone knew what to do. Before the tsunami arrived they had taken shelter on the second floor. The wave was 10 metres high, swamped the building and all 60 of the mostly elderly people there were killed. Only one younger person survived by clinging to a curtain rail.
At another town, the designated refuge for the children at the elementary and middle schools was an old peoples’ home. The middle school children had been taught to collect the little kids from the elementary school and help them escape, which they did indeed do perfectly. However, someone in the group thought the old peoples’ home didn’t look high enough to escape the wave, which was already only a couple of minutes away, and at the last moment decided to take everyone to an even higher spot. The old peoples’ home was overwhelmed, but the children survived.
Now I’m not trying to draw an “authorities are worthless” sort of moral here. They did the best they could, but people are fallible and no-one expected a tsunami of the size that hit the Tohoku region this time. Well over 10 metres in many places. Can you imagine it? Well, you’ve probably had some help from the videos on You-Tube, but it’s still hard to take in.
The last story is of a 16 year old boy and his grandmother, who were found in the ruins of a house some ten days after the earthquake. They had been in the kitchen on the second floor. The room was bent out of shape, but was still a space in which they could survive, taking things out of the fridge in the next room. However, there was no way out, until the boy was finally able to break a hole in the wall, climb onto what used to be the roof and call for help. The day after the quake he had called his parents with his cellphone and they had come to search for the two of them, but the house had been moved a hundred metres by the tsunami, smashed into fragments and mixed in with the wreckage of the neighbours’ houses so they were unable to find it. Both of them are OK.