A few hours ago, as by a miracle, the heavy rains we’ve been having in Tokyo since yesterday evening stopped at exactly noon, just when the annual Aoyama International Festival was scheduled to start. As usual I wasn’t one to give up on an interesting festival just for a little rain, but even though I had an umbrella I was pretty much drenched just getting to the subway station. The festival started without any trouble at all, and although the crowds were pretty much nonexistent the traditional parade of different foreign and cultural groups took place as planned. One of the parading groups were the “Italians For Tohoku” who had the honor to represent Italy. I recognized Mr. Marco Staccioli (right on first picture, and last picture) who together with the group had done fantastic grassroots work to bring food and relief from the Italian community in Japan to the disaster ravaged North-east of Japan and especially the town of Rikuzen-Takata, the worst hit of them all. Thanks to private initiatives like this people like Mr. Staccioli and countless others all did their best and helped bring his two countries together, Italy and Japan. I haven’t seen anything about “Italians For Tohoku” in the news so I thought I’d do my best to bring them to public awareness. If you are Italian and reading this, please recommend the group and Mr. Staccioli for a medal or something, at least! It’s people like him, and all the others in his group that make me feel proud to be a foreigner in Japan! Italians For Tohoku, Grazie mille! You can read about their work here and here, and lots of photos and text in Japanese here.
My final post on Onagawa for this time, sorry if it’s been a little repetitive here lately, this stuff is on my mind almost constantly.
The earthquake struck at 14:46 and continued for a couple of minutes. At 14:50 most people would have started to consider evacuation, and if you were on foot in the middle of Onagawa town this would mean the centrally located hospital atop a tall hill. Just as an experiment, I recreated the route people would have taken to see what it would feel like. Now I’m young and healthy with good legs so I can’t even imagine what it would be like to escape this route if you were old or injured already. As you can see the stairs are pretty steep. From most locations in the harbour it would take you a few minutes, running, to reach the first stairs to the first level of evacuation. But as you can see the tsunami reached higher. From there, you have the choice of a more level road that was already blocked full of cars and people, or you can continue up the stairs that survived the earthquake. Atop the hill sits a hospital, we are now 20m from ground level, so about 25m above ocean level. In a best case scenario, the people gathered at the top of the hill would now continue running into the hospital and using internal stairs try and reach the roof. Probably guided by hospital staff and rescue staff already stranded on top of the hill. But the tsunami engulfed at least the first floor of that hospital, as you can see from the images of damaged hospital equipment: computers, furniture, patient records, medicines.
Yes, I think I would have been able to outrun the tsunami, if I was clothed, already outdoors, uninjured, healthy and not bothered with helping old/injured people up those stairs. In anything less than an ideal scenario it would have been pretty hard to get to that evacuation centre.
If you live in a coastal area close to the pacific ocean, why not try this scenario for yourself: go down to the harbour. Pick up a sack of stuff of about 50-80kg (pretending it is someone who can’t move/injured), then run to the nearest point 25m above sea level. Time yourself. Personally, I need more training. I think.
I don’t think this needs any further comment. By far the worst hit town I saw. Note the number of destroyed reinforced concrete buildings. This is unique.
The emergency center of Onagawa. The tower was manned shortly after the earthquake by city staff urging people to evacuate to higher ground. The emergency broadcast continued until the tsunami engulfed the control room.
At first I thought that the number of destroyed reinforced concrete building were wholly to blame on poor foundations, but then I took a second look at the building in this photo. See those concrete foundation pillars sticking out? Somehow the tsunami lifted the building straight out of the earth, knocking off the lower part of the pillars in process and then flipping the building over on it’s side. I am no tsunami scientist, but this right here is proof of the unbelievable power of the tsunami as it reached this town. This was not believed to be possible until now.
The city hospital and the high ground around it is the subject of a coming post. Note that the tsunami reached to the first floor of this hospital, engulfing the evacuation zone. This is also one of the few evacuation centres set up in Onagawa town proper. Well, I think this one of only two, at least that I visited.