To ensure safety

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.

The situation when the earthquake occurred

It was right around the time we were about to go home. The earthquake happened while we were carrying things getting ready for our end-of-day meeting. So not everyone was together in the same place.

There was a separate changing room, and some people were in there. But most people were gathered together, so we were able to instruct them to get under the tables right away even though it was shaking so much.

But the shaking was really strong, so one person couldn’t get all the way under the tables. I was nearby, so I pushed him inside and covered his head. But anyway, I was able to keep my cool at the time.

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.

At the time earthquake hit

When the earthquake hit, I was at Moshiono Sato, a Shiogama city’s co-living facility for the disabled, which was located next door to Sakura Gakuen. A user there had an epileptic seizure, and I was called and just attending the person. I was in charge of both facilities at the time.

We brought the person to a room with tatami floor mat, laid him down and I was nursing. I couldn’t see how others were doing because the room was a bit separated from other space by a corridor. I imagine people were screaming but the staff was composed and giving directions like “everyone get under the tables!”

As I heard those voices, and as I attended the person laid down with epilepsy, a board for table tennis just next to the person suddenly started to fell over him. I placed one of my hands on the person while put the other to hold the board. I recall shouting and instructing people to go under the tables. Once the tremor stopped, I rushed to Sakura Gakuen to see all the trainees there were ok.

At Sakura Gakuen, everyone including the ones who were working at the workshop were instructed to cover themselves under the tables. I was told that initial sway shook tables so hard that some heavy items fell flying and some people were almost hit by them. I was glad nobody was injured.

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.