Evacuation site


Did you go on foot to your first evacuation location?

We went both on foot and by car.


What was your process for evacuating?

There was a community center near the workshop. Behind that there was a park.

As we were going to evacuate, we heard the information that maybe wide spaces like parks with nothing in them would be safer.

Some people had evacuated to the park. When it’s shaking that much, you do feel like it would be safe someplace where there are no buildings and nothing to fall over.

If the earthquake had happened when we were supposed to go home from the workshop, our trainees might have decided to go to the park on their own judgment.

It’s scary now to think that if it had been left up to each person’s judgment, they might have just followed anyone who asked them to go along.


How many disabled trainees did you have when you evacuated?

That day, we had 7 trainees with us. Six of them evacuated with us. One person had already gone home before the earthquake happened, because the recreation had finished early. We evacuated with the trainees who were with us in the workshop.


Around how many minutes after that did the tsunami come?

After that, we fled not to Arahama Elementary School but to another elementary school inland, so we didn’t actually see the tsunami.


Was the decision to flee to that inland elementary school also a “just for now” type thing?

Yeah. The information we heard from the radio on the height of the tsunami was also changing by the hour.

Arahama Elementary was already very crowded when we got there. We couldn’t get into the school grounds by car, and traffic was jammed around the school. For those reasons, we took refuge in a convenience store near the school.

There was a heavily trafficked prefectural road nearby that was also jammed, and we thought there was no place for those people to evacuate but Arahama Elementary. We were worried that all the drivers on this busy prefectural road might not be able to fit inside the school, and so we waited in the nearby convenience store for a while.

The prefectural road was in front of the convenience store, so we could see the traffic jam right before our eyes. We started thinking about where else we could evacuate to.

Then the information on the radio changed, and they said a 10 meter tsunami was coming. A 10 meter tsunami means the only safe places are on the 3rd or 4th floor. So we decided it was too dangerous to stay where we were.

Four kilometers beyond Arahama is Shichigo Elementary. I remembered they were doing construction there a few years back. They said they were fortifying it against earthquakes. So in consideration of safety, we decided to evacuate to Shichigo Elementary instead.

Escaping from Tsunami

We knew Tsunami warning had been issued as someone turned the radio on.

Then emergency siren went off, and we all thought something serious was happening. Radio announcers were also mentioning the possibility of tsunami. We thought we would better leave the facility because we were located near the coast. There was not much hesitation in deciding to evacuate immediately.

Our evacuation center was Suginoiri elementary school two to three minutes away by car. My thought for these situations had been to bring people up in higher grounds, so the first step was to go diagonally across the street to the premise of a supermarket which was in a bit higher place than ours. There was an access from the shop’s rooftop parking to a road behind it, which was in a higher ground. We decided to bring everyone to the rooftop by shuttling them with our cars.

We asked the one who could walk to do so. We were to shuttle in a couple of rounds those who would need more time to walk there. We were going to abandon the cars if they were caught in heavy traffic, but it was going to be faster while the traffic was not bad. By using office cars and some private cars, we could bring everybody on the roof of the supermarket as our first step.

I was going to take the last car from our facility, and we were going to meet at the rooftop parking. The persons on foot were also going straight up to the parking, if I remember correctly. We were all there in less than half an hour and we needed to decide what to do next. Not all the members were in cars, and it was a very cold day. We thought we’d better seek shelter in a place with a roof and walls. And we knew our assigned evacuation center was the Suginoiri elementary school.

It was about three to four hundred meters to the school from the supermarket on flat road. The ones who were on foot continued to walk and we drove the ones who were in cars. We had no information whether the school would actually accept us or if there were already other people seeking shelter there. We just headed to the school without knowing these things.

Three days taking refuge

The building Orion used as a tenant was close to the sea and it was engulfed by huge tsunami. The trainees and the staff escaped to upper floor of the building and were all safe.

How many trainees were there at that time?

Kumai: Around eight including a boy who was a graduate from special-need school, and a sixth grade elementary school girl and her mother who were visiting us at that time. We stayed in the building (where the facility was located) for a week. All the staff members were there, by chance.

(After the initial tremor) We put everyone in our cars and were ready to move to another place, when one trainee said she wanted to use bathroom. We decided to go back into the building of the facility. However, the owner of the building, who lived nearby, invited us to use the bathroom of his house. A couple of staff members and the trainee went to his house.

That was when the tsunami came. Those staff members and the trainee stayed at that house until Sunday (March 11 was a Friday).

The house was newly built but its first floor was ruined by the tsunami. Staff members took their shoes off to go into the house because it was before the tsunami, and the tsunami ruined their shoes.

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.

Shoko needed medical support

Shoko first became worried when her phlegm aspirator’s battery died due to a loss of power, and she knew she might have difficulty breathing.

After the shaking stopped, did you return home?

Shoko: No, I moved to Minato Elementary School (near the Orion workshop). I stayed there for two nights, then some people from the Self-Defense Force took me to the Ishinomaki Red Cross Hospital


Around how long were you in the hospital?

Shoko: I think it was around ten days.

Kumai: Shoko needed phlegm aspiration. When I told that to the managers of the Minato Elementary shelter, they said they would arrange to have her taken to the Red Cross Hospital. Then on Sunday (3/13), they moved her. We staff assumed they would take her straight to the hospital on the day they moved her, but we later heard she actually didn’t get there until two days later.

There was a nursing school right next to the elementary school, so apparently they had assistant nurses and nursing school students looking after her for the two days she stayed at the elementary school. After that, all those nurses gathered at the Red Cross Hospital, so the nursing-care helpers continued to assist her.

Two days at the assembly hall

What did the some-hundred employees do after evacuating to the mountain?

Some people gradually started heading home to check on their houses and families. Those who lived nearby went home on foot. I stayed at the assembly hall for two days. Other people from around the region also gathered there, and I hear some whose homes were washed away or destroyed stayed for around a month.


Did the assembly hall have running water?

No, it didn’t. Some other people went far away with their cars and brought us mountain water in tanks. We split it up amongst ourselves and used a little at a time as drinking water. For food, we had one meal a day. My coworkers and I ate canned food in the evenings. Two people shared one can. We were hungry and really tired.


Was the assembly hall large?

It was around 30 square meters, with two rooms around 15 square meters each.


And you were packed like sardines, right?

It was really full. There were no futons, either. The people in the houses behind us brought blankets and such, and we were really grateful. It was really cold, so we slept right up next to each other. There wasn’t even enough space to stretch our legs, so the whole time we had to sleep with our knees bent. We were still wearing our factory uniforms, so it was really cold.


What sorts of conversations did you have with your coworkers who were with you?

When I asked my coworkers what they were doing, I found out they were checking to make sure their families were okay. They said they wanted to go home because they were worried about their families. On March 12th I also said I wanted to go home, but I was stopped because a fire had broken out near the factory. Then on March 13th I walked to my daughter’s school with a coworker, and I was safely reunited with my daughter.

The day before that, on March 12th, one of my supervisors had asked me in writing, “What’s your daughter’s name? How old is she?” This person was going around asking this to everyone who had children, and taking notes. My supervisor walked to elementary and junior high schools a whole hour away on foot to check on the kids, and told the teachers, “Their mom is okay. Their dad is alive.” That person told me, “You daughter is well. She’s safe,” and I was really relieved.


How did you normally communicate with people at work?

In writing. I just happened to have a message board in my bag when the disaster happened, so I used that to communicate. If I hadn’t had paper, I may have had to manage with gestures, or just deal with not being able to communicate because I couldn’t say anything.


When you evacuated, did the people with you take you by the hand and lead you?

No. I had coworkers in front of and behind me, and I just followed the person in front.


Were there any other hearing impaired people besides you working at that company?

No, I was the only one. There was an intellectually disabled person there who also fled with us.

At the evacuation center

Did you spend the first night at Himawari?

No, we all took refuge at nearby public facility K-Wave (Kesennuma City General Gymnasium). We took with us cookies we had for sale. There had been a shared understanding that K-Wave was going to be our place if a disaster like that happened because it’s on a hill. There were many people taking refuge when we got there.


Were there any heaters at K-Wave?

No. We didn’t even have blankets there. We were at a part of the same big room as other evacuees at the beginning. However, because of the changes of places and situations, and because they couldn’t meet their family, some of our trainees started acting in hyperactive ways. Every evacuee felt insecure and anxious because of the disaster and their situation. It was difficult for our trainees to keep their rhythm of life in the middle of all other evacuees. They were treated indifferently when they went to bathrooms. Nobody was acting wrong but everybody was feeling overwhelmed by the situation. It was difficult for our trainees to understand and accept the situation. They talked very loudly at bathrooms, and they jumped around even though they were not feeling happy. We explained the situation and asked persons in the facility administration to let us use a separate room. They didn’t understand our necessity. We emphasized that having us there would cause troubles to other evacuees and finally convinced them to spare a meeting room for us. All the staff and the trainees spent in the room eating cookies that night. The situation at the gym didn’t allow us to stay there any longer, and we came back to Himawari the next day.