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Essay from Riko's Mother: the Great East Japan Earthquake

My experience in the Great East Japan Earthquake

When the earthquake struck, I was at work. While the earth kept on shaking, I hoped that this was the Miyagi earthquake. It has been said that that it would occur every about 30 years, so I have seen this coming. Another magnitude five earthquake occurred two days ago. However, I felt that this shake was different from that one. I have always wanted the Miyagi earthquake to be over as early as possible, because we never know when to come and it would come sooner or later.

But something was different. The shaking was long, and the power went out. The traffic lights lost the power, and some cars crashed into others.

Workers at the paper mill and other nearby companies started evacuating, but chatting with one another, they casually walked up the hill. Then, my father said that he would go to pick up my daughter from school. The local radio station announced that Onagawa had been hit by a six-meter-high tsunami.

Passing by people taking refuge, I rushed to my parents' house. My grandparents were tiding up fallen flower pots on the front steps. I told them to escape, but they said with a smile that it would be fine because no tsunami had come here even at the time of the Great Chilean Earthquake. Even so, I led them by the hand. Then, my father and my daughter came back from school. My father told me that he would escape out from home once my brother came back. So, I drove everyone, picked up my mother on the way and headed towards the kindergarten on the mountain top where my son was waiting. He came running and hugged me with tears running down his face. When we were wondering where to drive, a man running up towards us cried "Tsunami is coming". Looking at the sea, it was filled with heavy smoke. I was not sure if it was water mist, fragments of buildings or snow which had been falling for a while. I rushed and drove to a higher place.

I behaved in a positive way so that the children would not feel scared by repeated strong aftershocks. We spent the night in the car. My father and brother joined us. In the middle of the night, we received an evacuation instruction because the primary school at the foot of the mountain was in a fire, and that the fire might spread into the residential area. We had to move the car.

Next morning, finally I could reach my husband by phone. Four days after the earthquake, all the family could gather.

The gymnasium of a high school on the mountain was used as a shelter, and we spent several days there. Since my children have food allergy, they could not eat bananas and pastries supplied during our stay there.  They ate rice crackers that I always have with me and some tofu that a tofu shop probably could not deliver and brought to the shelter. This helped us a lot. Adults brought buckets of water from a swimming pool at the school to flush the toilets.
In April, digging my way through the wreckage, I went to my parents' house. There was a two-meter-high Tsunami water mark at the front door area where my grandparents had been. My workplace, the road to my parents' house and my daughter's school were also flooded by tsunami. Sometimes I wonder what if we had started to evacuate a bit later...

Many volunteers came from all over Japan and cleared the mud and wreckage during Golden Week holidays (end April - early May). They worked hard in the hot weather and in a smelly and dirty environment just for us whom they did not know from Adam. 

It has been decided to build a road which functions as a breakwater. This road embankment will probably cover my parents' house and ours. Today, even 3 years after the disaster, we cannot see how this breakwater project will turn out, which makes us unsettling. 

I always keep some water, food and anti-cold clothing in my car, so we will be able to escape whenever tsunami occurs again. Also, I have picked up a habit of thinking an evacuation route wherever I am. I feel worried whenever the traffic is jammed. When we go to places where we have never been before, the children always ask "Would tsunami come here too?” It is impossible to have them stay alone at home. As most of classmates come to school by car or school bus from temporary housing, it is difficult for them to play with friends after school.

I feel that the children in the disaster areas are accustomed to accept situations which are not supposed to be normal in a “normal life”. Hoping that there will come one day when no one thinks of here as disaster area, we, as adults, should protect our children and build an environment where they can feel safe.

June 2014, Ishinomaki City, Miyagi Prefecture
Sakai Riko's mother

東日本大震災復興事業寄付
RikoMotherEarthquakeExerience1RikoMotherEarthquakeExerience2
150周年記念ロゴ


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