Buildings completely or partially destroyed

Sakuranbo was completely destroyed. One day it was just gone. The Ouka nursing home suffered large scale partial destruction, but it might as well have been gone too. Even though the building itself remained, the electrical system was flooded and shot, and several cars had crashed into the building so it was completely useless. But this was considered large scale partial destruction. So an unusable building doesn’t equal a completely destroyed building.

At the time, the Ouka nursing home facility had just opened in July 2010, and after it was damaged on 3/11 2011, it was demolished in June 2012 to meet the demolition deadline. Two disabled group homes were also damaged and torn down.

Sakuranbo, a vocational support center for the disabled, wasn’t far from the Ouka nursing home facility, so everyone from those facilities evacuated together.

Traces of the tsunami

We didn’t have any trainees whose homes were damaged by the tsunami, so no one went into temporary housing either.

On the other hand, our building was the only place that got hit, so all of our trainees really wanted Sakuranbo to recover quickly. They didn’t withdraw, but were really energetic and happy when we resumed our activities.

But the building and staff were facing great difficulties. Some of our staff’s homes were damaged in the tsunami, or their cars were swept away and had crashed into their houses. Sakuranbo’s foundation was carried off around 2-3 meters, and the underground electrical lines and water pipes were all ruptured and destroyed. We didn’t know what to do.

The earthquake and damages

What were you doing at the time of the disaster?

That day was a recreation day at the workshop. Our activities normally go until 14:40, but recreation ended a little early that day, and the earthquake came when we were taking a break around 14:30. We were just resting on the sofa at the time.

Our disabled trainees were just really shocked, but they didn’t panic or anything.


How did you deal with the shaking, and what were the damages?

The lights in the room where we were resting were made of glass, so we had the trainees avoid those and take refuge elsewhere. There were some people in front of the dish shelves as well, so we guided those people to a safe place.

We had been doing regular evacuation drills at the workshop long before the disaster happened. We also had things posted on the walls so people could visually see which places in the workshop were safe, and which were dangerous.

We had always maintained that sort of disaster prevention awareness. On that day too, everyone responded based on our previous drills and preparations.

Besides securing safe places and confirming unsafe places in the workshop, we had also secured all the shelves in the facility. Thanks to these preparations, not a single person was injured, not a single thing fell over, and we incurred no damages from the earthquake.

Deciding where to evacuate to

I hear you evacuated to an elementary school. Was that the established place you were supposed to go in the event of a tsunami?

Yes. We started by evacuating to our local Arahama Elementary School.

The evacuation location for Midori Workshop had been decided since before the disaster. But since we understood the risk of a tsunami, at that time we were still trying to determine a place that was guaranteed to be safe in consideration of that risk.

We had asked a disaster prevention expert about how to evacuate from a tsunami considering Arahama’s terrain, and were told that the structure of this region could cause a tsunami to rush in like a river.

There is a gas station at the end of a straight road from the swimming area on the beach, and buildings carried by the tsunami actually went crashing into it.

So the gas station filled up with debris, and when the second tsunami came in like a follow-up attack, the direction of the waves changed. So then the waves split up and went towards Shinmachi 2-chome, where our workshop is.

So that’s why our workshop building was carried off by the tsunami, and now there’s nothing left. The houses that remained safe were located slightly away from the tsunami’s path when it rushed in like a river.

We had thought about how to evacuate, but at that time we were still considering whether or not we should evacuate to Arahama Elementary School, which could be in the path of a tsunami. We hadn’t yet reached the final stage in deciding where exactly to go to escape a tsunami.

The status of damages directly after the earthquake

The panels on top of the air conditioner fell down from different places. There were some unbreakable dishes inside the tea cupboard, and the cupboard doors shook and moved and knocked down a few of the dishes. Our staff computers almost fell. Things moved out of place a bit, but we didn’t have that much earthquake damage.

After the shaking stopped, we checked on everyone then and there to make sure everyone was safe including our employees.

Almost everyone was okay. We did have one autistic person who had holed up inside the disabled bathroom because of the bad shaking, but we knew where that person was. We had an employee stay with that person. We were able to confirm early on that there were no injuries. It was before 15:00 when we confirmed everyone was okay.

An earthquake during work

Were you working at the time?

Ogawa: Yes. We were making bread.


Around how many of you were working?

Ogawa: I think there were around 4 or 5 of us.


How did you protect yourselves when the earthquake happened?

I imagine there were all kinds of dangerous things around you while you were working. How was everyone?

Ogawa: The earthquake was really strong, so some people were holding on to the dollies. Then we grabbed onto the arms of the staff and they brought us outside.


Did you go outside with the staff?

Ogawa: I escaped right away with a trainee who had frozen and couldn’t move.


Was anyone injured or anything at that time?

Ogawa: No, no one.


How did things look around you?

Ogawa: Things had fallen down, and papers were scattered everywhere.

Temporary housing for vulnerable people

The group home Ms. Ogawa used to live in was close to the ocean, so it was flooded in the tsunami.

Yasuko: The temporary housing (group home) was completed around September or August.

Tada: There was originally a group home (that Ms. Ogawa was living in) in town (in the Ayukawahama area). Until the current temporary group home was completed, she had no place to live. Temporary homes for the non-disabled people were first in line to be completed, so she was waiting in the shelter for over 7 months.


Was the house Ms. Ogawa moved to a publicly funded rental shared with a group of disabled residents?

Tada: No, it was specifically built as a temporary group home.

Yasuko: There are quite a few publicly funded rental houses for disabled residents in the city, but only one in the Oshika district.

Spending nights at roadside rest area

Ai’s house was damaged by the tsunami on the first floor.


Kumai: After the disaster, former director of the facility and I visited Ai’s house. I asked if she was able to sleep on the second floor of the house. I was worried she may not have been able to sleep there. She was scared of aftershocks, and they went to a roadside rest area called Johbon no Sato at night and slept in their sedan car, I was told.

I talked with Shoshin Kai (another social welfare foundation) and asked them to provide a room for Ai and her family in their facility, which was authorized as evacuation center for the disabled (in which persons with disabilities and their families took refuge). Luckily, they had one room available.


What did you talk about in the car with your parents?

Ai: About people affected by the disaster, and so on.

Kumai: You were also cleaning.

Ai: Yes!

Kumai: She went home during the day and helped clean the house.

I was in the cake shop where I was employed.

Where were you at the time?

Konno: At the time of the earthquake, I was in the cake shop where I was employed. It shook really hard, so we evacuated to the parking lot outside. Then it started snowing.

I was there with my boss and the other employees.

It shook quite a lot inside the factory, so things fell down. The heavy oven moved a centimeter, and all kinds of utensils and the bowl we use to crack eggs fell and made a big mess.

After the shaking stopped, I got worried about my family and tried calling them, but I couldn’t get a hold of them.

Situation at the time of the disaster

What happened at the time of the disaster on March 11?

We were to expand our activities at the vocational support center for the disabled and it was the day we were moving to our new location. We started in the morning and had finished moving most of large items by the time.

Our workshop started the year before. As there was no place for people with disabilities to obtain vocational training in the area, demands for our place grew rapidly so we decided relocation to somewhere closer to city center. However, we lost by the tsunami on that day both Kirara Onagawa’s original place, which was very close to the coast and where our trainees used to work, and our new location.

Life at your house

How badly affected your house by the tsunami?

It was just below the floor level, not high enough to reach the entrance hall. So, inside the house was not affected. However, the storage was inundated and all the machines were broken.


Was there still water on the following day?

Water seemed to have receded by the following day, but the problem was the mud. I was at the home for the elderly and wondering whether I was going to stay overnight there, but my mother came to pick me up in late afternoon. So, I stayed one night at the cardiovascular hospital, and half day at the home for the elderly. We had hard time finding streets we could drive back to our house. Many of them were blocked. We saw some corps wrapped in blue plastic sheets. There was a river just on the side of our house and the water stopped there without affecting our house.


So I can see that the damages caused were very different from this side of the river and the other side, though there wasn’t much distance between them.

That’s right. It was totally different. Many people actually deceased on the other side. We were in the same Kadonowaki district, but the situation differed tremendously on different sides of the river.


What did you do about food?

We had frozen food and rice. One of our neighbors owned a supermarket and he gave us a basket full of frozen food that was flooded but still edible.


How about lifeline services?

There was no water or electricity. We had propane gas cylinders and we could use it after pressing the reset button. A neighbor lent us a kerosene heater. We used it with a kettle on top. Three of us stayed in our living room.


What happened to your furniture?

They were ok in the living room. Cupboard in the kitchen fell and leaned against refrigerator. Bookshelf in my room on the second floor fell and its glasses were totally shattered. It would have been more dangerous if I had been there at the time of the earthquake. I used an electric lift to get into the house before the disaster. We put the sloped approach after the disaster. Before the disaster, I could get out and go down from the house but definitely not coming up and go into the house. I really recognized the importance of electricity.


Did electricity come back soon?

It came back at the end of March, on around 25th or 26th. Water service resumed at around the same time. It was brown color water though.


What did you do with drinking water?

My mother and brother went out to fill bottles or went to the Red Cross Hospital to receive water from water tank trucks.


Didn’t those trucks come this way?

It seemed they came to a junior high school about ten minutes away on foot from here, however, once you come back to your house you feel hesitant to go to these places for supplies. “Here is a person who doesn’t come here usually.” You imagine people would be thinking like that. We were told that we could receive emergency supplies at certain places, but we didn’t go there at all.


Were there many people staying at their houses around here?

Yes. Most of the houses here had not been washed away, so people stayed. The floor level of our house is the lowest among houses around here to have the sloped approach for wheelchair. That’s why electric lift and everything else were damaged here while in other houses they didn’t have any problem with their water heater.


Did you get rid of the mud by yourselves in this area?

Yes. We came back to the house on the 12th, but it was impossible for me to get out of the car because of the mud. I stayed overnight in the car. We cleared the mud just wide enough for the wheelchair on the 13th and I came in finally. It was just after midday, I think. We used any material such as rubbish bag to spread on the floor to cover it. I stayed on the wheelchair for a week without using bed for that period. I stayed like this.


Was that because you were afraid of aftershocks?

That was a part of the reasons. We were more worried that if I used my bed, it would take too much time before I could get ready to escape from tsunami. It takes quite a long time for me to move from the bed to wheelchair, say 10 to 20 minutes. I stayed all the time in this living room.