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.
The first building newcomers and tourists to Onagawa visit is usually the Marine Pal, a community center which focuses on the cuisine, produce and culture of the town. The building remains intact but the interiors were absolutely destroyed by the earthquake, a subsequent fire and the following tsunami. I saw signs that people had been working to put out the fire moments before the tsunami arrived. I hope they managed to escape.