Ways to contact

What happened while living in the evacuation center

What were the 10 days in the shelter like? Did you have any problems?

Hmm. Well, everything was a problem. Our trainees and staff weren’t able to receive or transmit the necessary information. We were isolated, and couldn’t contact anyone.

We staff need all kinds of information to protect our trainees to get them home safely. We need information about the situation around us, like if the buses are running or not, how and where to obtain medicine, and so on. We had difficulty making surefire plans on site without such information.

I think it was also really stressful for our trainees because we couldn’t secure personal space for them in the shelter.


Were you sharing a room with abled people the whole time? Was there any trouble?

Yes. We shared a room with abled people for 10 days. Though the evacuation center made no special arrangements for our disabled trainees, we didn’t cause any trouble for the people around us.


Because the local people from the same Arahama area were understanding?

Yeah. We had a good relationship with the former neighborhood association chairperson who happened to be in the same room with us, and thanks to that connection we got along well with the locals who didn’t know us as well. We also talked proactively to the people in the room, so we were able to get to know each other and support each other without any trouble.


How was your relationship with the shelter management?

The school teachers took the lead at the shelter. We communicated proactively with them, and told the teachers about our situation as social workers.


Did you get any special consideration from the management?

Not really. But everyone was in a state of confusion when the disaster happened, and if we had just expected others to support us, I don’t think it would have gone well. In a disaster, the people who support you are all in the same position. They’re evacuees too.

If we hadn’t gotten involved in managing the shelter ourselves and had the mindset of doing it together, I don’t think things would have gone well for us at the shelter.

So after we took refuge at Shichigo Elementary, we went to the faculty room right away and talked about what the situation was, any information to be shared, how we could contribute, etc. Through such communication, we naturally got involved in management.

Communication tools and handing over to families

We had difficulty having contact with trainees’ parents or family members, but tried to phone one by one and as much as we could.

There was one public telephone, a pink one, at the school. It was functioning without any restraints at the beginning. People made a line with ten yen coins in their hands. We did too. I remember that we limited ourselves to make only a few calls at a time not to impede others to make theirs, and then go back to the end of the line again. It was in the late afternoon of the first day.

There were families we couldn’t get hold of. We could with some and couldn’t with others. Some families came to pick the trainees up at the school as they guessed we were taking shelter there. Others went to look for them in other places first and then came to the school. We started handing trainees over to their guardians in the evening of that day as they came to the school.

Users from Moshiono Sato were taking refuge with us too. There were some users at that facility who lived by themselves. We thought some of them, depending on their ability to support themselves, should stay with us longer.

We decided not to send them home until we could get hold of their families. We didn’t know how their houses were like and the situations didn’t allow us to verify the status of their houses one by one. I guess the trainees and users themselves felt like to stay with us because of that very uncertain situation. That evening of the first day, we didn’t go with them to their houses or go out to see the situation of their houses.

Verifying information

We didn’t know at all what was really happening, and no information was available as there was no electricity. We could have stayed in cars and listen to the radio to obtain some information but I guess I was kind of disoriented myself and couldn’t think of those alternatives at that moment, frankly to say.

There was a rumor that tsunami tidal wave had hit, and I was wondering what happened to Sakura Gakuen. I wanted to verify the situation and sent a staff member next morning to a place where he could see the national highway and the area around the facility. When the person came back I asked how the situation was, and was informed that the place is inundated. The support center was totally flooded on those days.

The situation changed slowly. We were informed at an early stage that water was still waist level. At one point it receded to knee level, and then we were told that we would be able to go there in our rubber boots. That was on the second or the third day, and we went inside the facility to check the damages.