The school received warning of the approaching tsunami by short wave radio immediately after the earthquake.
On June 4, about 70 angry parents confronted the City Board of Education at a meeting, demanding to know why it took 40 minutes after the earthquake to evacuate the children. The board said it took time to start moving because the teachers were taking roll and making plans.
Sayomi Shito, 45, who lost her 5th grade daughter, said time has stopped since the incident and that it should not have happened. “My daughter died because the school made a wrong decision,” she said. “Why did they do it? I can’t go ahead with my life until I find out. I have no intention of accusing the teachers, but we must know the truth, so the same kind of mistake will not happen again.”
The teachers assembled the children in the schoolyard immediately after the earthquake; they were still discussing the evacuation route as they led the children out of the school.
A father who lost his 6th grade son, said, “Who decided to hold the children on the school grounds for 40 minutes? The school officials have evaded explaining their actions.”
The board said that one of the alternative evacuation routes was located on higher ground about 200 meters behind the school. However, the teachers did not take that route because snow was still piled up, so it was slippery. In the event of another earthquake, they feared the trees might fall. They felt that route was too dangerous. The teachers chose another route, on a nearby high hill, Kita Kawakami, which required walking through a breakwater seawall. They never made it.
Only 10 minutes after they left school, the tsunami hit and swept them away. They had not even reached the seawall.
According to board members, this was the second time the group met; the first was May 31. The board said the teachers did the best they could given the circumstances and that therefore no more meetings are necessary. They told the parents at the meeting that they have said all there is to say.
“We had the first meeting because all the victims parents strongly requested it,” said a father who lost his child. “However, the school didn’t have any knowledge or information about what had happened to the children on that day.”
Another mother who lost her daughter, said, “The principal visited my house to pray for my daughter. It was about 40 minutes of silence (no talking). No apology or explanation of the incident.”
The parents are not satisfied with the board’s explanation. They still want to know who was responsible for holding the children that long.
The parents said this is a tragic no-win situation.
The Asahi Shimbun was a source