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Families of children who died in tsunami sue school, Miyagi Prefecture gov't

25 Comments

A group of families of 23 children who died when they were swept away from their school in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, by the tsunami on March 11, 2011, have filed a suit against the school and the prefectural government claiming they are responsible for the children's deaths.

The plaintiffs say that Okawa elementary school staff should have acted much faster to evacuate children from the school which is situated about four kilometers from the coast, TBS reported Tuesday. They also blamed the Ishinomaki city and prefectural governments for not sounding the tsunami alert sooner. In the disaster, 74 children and 10 teachers from the school died.

Family members are seeking 100 million yen in damages per child.

However, local government and school officials said there was no way to predict the size of the tsunami, nor that it would come so far inland and reach the school.

Before the first session got under way at the Sendai District Court on Monday morning, members of the bereaved families joined hands around the memorial that now stands outside the destroyed Okawa elementary school in remembrance of the children lost in the disaster.

The key point of the suit is the decision by school officials to have the children gather and wait for further instructions for over 45 minutes in the school yard, instead of moving the children to higher ground.

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Sad, sad situation. While I can't blame the families for suing, I don't think the school is the right party to sue. If the local gov't had sounded the alarm earlier, the school would have acted sooner. If anything, they should sue TEPCO.

My heart goes out to the families involved...

-3 ( +6 / -9 )

Disgusting.

-13 ( +0 / -13 )

The law suit won´t get the children back.

-11 ( +2 / -13 )

The law suit won't bring their families back, true, but it might give them enough money try try to have more. (Adoption, fertility treatments, general expenses that come with having a baby!) I'm not sure it's right to sue the school, or anyone... But I can't blame them for wanting compensation.

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

And the gates of a litigious society are open. Sure, some cases will be won and some will be lost. It comes as no surprise regarding other similar situations regarding March 11. With TEPPCO and other parts of Fukushima. I foresee a number of lawsuits in the future.

-4 ( +2 / -6 )

I've been to what remains of that school and have felt the pain of their deaths myself. It's a moving memorial and the place is eerily been kept the same. If it had been in America they would have sued days afterward, not over three years later. The fact that they tried to cross the bridge over the river instead of climbing the hill situated feet from the school is what really bothers me. You tend to go up not to a bridge over a river that's barely 15 feet over the water.

I don't know if it's right to sue anyone. Tepco has nothing to do with this. Perhaps some of the money earmarked for the area could go to them. I know I've donated to Ishinomaki City Hall to help with children's education. It's a sad, sad thing.

5 ( +8 / -3 )

I doubt they're looking for money / financial compensation. They are angry that their kids could have survived but didn't. They want the decision makers to accept blame. And most likely, if asked, they'll say they want to make sure it never happens again.

Problem is, at 4 km from the coast, this school wasn't highlighted as being at flood risk on the city maps. If the staff had known the danger, they'd have headed for the nearest hill and found a way through the bramble themselves. 10/13 of them died as well.

The suit is good in that it will keep the issues and decisions made in the news and will likely ensure that ALL school boards around the country discuss what they should do and perhaps even prepare more escape routes. The bad part of the suit is that the surviving staff will feel like terrible no matter whether they win or lose. Same with parents in the end I'd guess.

Tragedy all round.

6 ( +9 / -3 )

45 minutes?? Normally I don't agree with such suits but that is horrific and just poor.

0 ( +5 / -5 )

@taj

I doubt they're looking for money / financial compensation.

You've gotta be kidding. If as you say they're suing for other reasons, then they should sue for 100 yen per child. But at 100 million per child, they're not after money? Right.

-10 ( +1 / -11 )

A month after the tsunami, I spent a night with the family of one of the girls who was washed away at the Okawa Elementary school. I believe the Principal was not present in the school and the teachers led the children along the river towards a bridge instead of seeking higher ground behind the school. Moreover the Principal showed no remorse and the parents of all the children were very angry with his attitude. A few students refused to follow the teachers and ran to higher ground and they survived the disaster. Emergency procedures were not followed by the school. The Prefectural authorities and the school system should share the blame for their ineptitude. It was one of the saddest days when I attended the funeral ceremony for the 73 children and their teachers.

9 ( +10 / -1 )

There has to be a more sensitive means of determining responsibility for the children’s deaths that recognize the significance of such a loss so affording the bereaved families closure. The court process is a uncompromisingly blunt instrument.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

If anything, they should sue TEPCO.

What, in the name of all that is good, did TEPCO have to do with these families' children being washed away by the tsunami?! Exercise a modicum of sense before posting, please.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

They are absolutely right to sue.

This was a crime of negligence.

All this stuff about "safety Japan"... where was "safety Japan" for these poor kids.

Billions of yen spent on earthquake warning systems, billions of yen spent on seismology researchers doing god-knows-what in their ivory tower universities... And they still hadn't prepared a simple simulation that would show something like "if a tsunami of height x-meters hits the coast then areas A, B and C will be inundated."

I completely disagree with this "we shouldn't sue the school or local authority" type mentality...

Why should they get off the hook so easily? Are they special for some reason? Above normal people?

How about the Tama-Sakai Costco?

The ramp to the car park collapsed in the earthquake and two people died.

Now the builder is being used for negligence and rightly so...

It makes my blood boil to think of those poor kids being made to wait in the playground as their teachers dallied and dallied....

And the awful truth is that safety was just a few yards away...

I hope the people who failed these kids are clearly identified and the reasons for their failure made clear so something as tragic as this never happens again...

1 ( +6 / -5 )

@tmarie

45 minutes?? Normally I don't agree with such suits but that is horrific and just poor

I agree.

Normally, the legal test in other countries is whether the conduct fell below the standard that would be expected of an average reasonable person in that situation. The problem in Japan is that waiting 45 minutes for further instructions from the authorities even though your life is in danger might be precisely what the average person would do.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Its so hard...

On one hand I know that this was a natural disaster. It was not anyones fault. You can't sue someone for a catastrophic event of unprecendented scale. In reality you cant really expect that a school can foresee such a huge tsunami. It begs the question, how huge do you have to forecast for? A 10 meter tsunami? 20? 50? It becomes impossible after a while. And we all know how the tsunami risk can vary according to where the earthquake is, how far from shore, and how big the original quake was. There are huge quakes which never cause tsunamis, and I think sadly, around that area, people just got a bit nonchalant about the risk.

On the other hand, as a parent myself, I cant imagine their pain. I cant imagine going to sleep and waking up every morning without my child. And I cant imagine knowing that my child died in a situation that could have been prevented. I Cant imagine NOT being angry at those who allowed this to happen. In this case, my logic about risk areas and evacuation protocols, is strongly overpowered by how much I love my kids, and how positive I am that those parents loved their children too.

I believe the parents when they say its not about money. Because no amount will ever ease their pain. It will never take away the birthdays of those children. The graduation days that never came. The thoughts about their future marriages or children. What they would have been like, as adults. To be honest, If my child died in such a situation, I wonder how my life would go on three years later. Would I be able to work? Get out of bed? I cant answer that. They are not sue-ing for money. However I am in no doubt that money has become a problem, because their kids have died.

I cant help but feel that, if they sue and win, other schools in other tsunami risk zones might sit up and take notice, instead of just shrugging their shoulders and saying "shouganai." If they win, and it encourages other school boards to think much more seriously about their own schools, and students, and what they would do in another huge earthquake and tsunami, which ends up preventing another 10, 100, 1000 children from dying needlessly... is that not a point well made? Is that not money well spent? Because I think it is.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

A few students refused to follow the teachers and ran to higher ground and they survived the disaster.

The problem in Japan is that waiting 45 minutes for further instructions from the authorities even though your life is in danger might be precisely what the average person would do.

I cant help but feel that, if they sue and win, other schools in other tsunami risk zones might sit up and take notice, instead of just shrugging their shoulders and saying shouganai.

Sometimes the culture of group-think and apology doesn't cut it.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

It was not anyones fault. You can't sue someone for a catastrophic event of unprecendented scale. In reality you cant really expect that a school can foresee such a huge tsunami. It begs the question, how huge do you have to forecast for? A 10 meter tsunami? 20? 50? It becomes impossible after a while.

I'm sorry, I don't think this is correct.

There had been a huge tsunami (38+ meters) in this very area about 100 years before... Google the "1896 Sanriku earthquake" for more info.

It's very simple... You ask yourself, say if such a huge tsunami hit again, what would happen?

Apparently the authorities in charge of protecting these kids and the authorities in charge of disseminating earthquake safety information didn't think it necessary to ask that question... For me, that is criminal negligence...

I want to know why they didn't prepare for this when a very similar event had occurred in the same area in a relatively recent historical time frame.

I think the media and authorities have tried to brainwash people with all this hogwash about "souteigai" disasters ... It wasn't souteigai... The authorities had the plain historical evidence... It is even there on google...

2 ( +5 / -3 )

"However, local government and school officials said there was no way to predict the size of the tsunami, nor that it would come so far inland and reach the school."

So what is the point of safety drills? You can predict that the drills are a boring waste of time until the actual disaster occurs and you panic and cause the death of those in your charge.

I can save the families a load of time and money, though. It'll go like this: "The court finds the deaths regrettable and gives the school a suspended sentence, but cannot charge anyone in charge..."

Imagine if there were actual justice. Japan would speed up the inevitable collapse.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

This was a natural Disaster and unimaginable, in the Aftermath we are all sooooooo smart but at the moment of Happening we are clueless!

This Parents suffer, like all the other countless People who lost loved Ones!

I doubt that they are successful but i understand their Pain.

I hope that all this People, living and dead, find Peace!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I don't understand. How can the school and prefectural government be held responsible for a natural disaster? Are they suggesting that this could have been prevented? How? As I understand it, no-one could have predicted that the tsunami would be as big as it was, or that it would reach so far inland. Sure, it's possible that the staff may have been trained for the situation, but training is not reality. You can try to prepare for any situation, but until it confronts you, you have no way of knowing for sure how you'll cope. Fear is a powerful emotion to try to overcome, and in the face of this tsunami, it's only natural that people would be gripped by it. There is no training that can change that, not unless you can block emotions completely like a Vulcan.

In addition to this, don't you think that the school and government have suffered enough from this ordeal themselves? Do you seriously believe that they aren't tormented constantly by their "failings"? This lawsuit isn't going to do anything more than cause additional harm.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

There had been a huge tsunami (38+ meters) in this very area about 100 years before... Google the "1896 Sanriku earthquake" for more info.

I googled it, saw the wiki entry, then searched the history of the wiki entry to see what people would have seen there the month BEFORE 3/11. That "huge' tsunami was a meter shorter than the one on 3/11 and there was nothing in the entry as it existed in February 2011 stating how far inland the 1896 tsunami had traveled, so there was no way of using it to determine which areas were at risk 115 years previous and there certainly aren't any living centenarians who would have been old enough to accurately remember that event.

You have to be very careful using the internet as "proof'" of what someone could or could not have known. What you read changes almost by the second.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

there was nothing in the entry as it existed in February 2011 stating how far inland the 1896 tsunami had traveled

I mean, haven't you heard of computer simulations?

You put the contour map of the coast into the computer program, aim a tsunami at it and see what happens.

The simulation will model the tsunami run-up.

It's a relatively simple computing task.

There was a big tsunami that hit Okushiro Island off Hokkaido in 1993.

It killed about 200 people.

After such a terrible disaster, you would think Japan's government would expend more energy on tsunami simulations and make a better job of using computer technology to simulate what could happen.

I'm sorry but in this day and age it is ridiculous to say that because there are no elderly people to tell us how far the 1896 earthquake went inland we have no way of knowing.

Just use a computer.

I want to know, given the terrible 1993 disaster, why this wasn't done, based on evidence from historical tsunamis.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

kimuzukashiiiii,

Excellent post. I couldn't have put it better myself.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

My heart goes out to these families. The nightmare of that day still haunts many of us and the absense of a child as a result of this tragedy will remain a sad reminder for the rest of these parents lives.

If 10 out of 13 staff members at this school hadn't died along with their students I would agree with the lawsuit. However, the fact that so many of the staff died as well speaks volumes about what they thought the dangers really were.

It's a sad situation for everyone to have to deal with and I hope that the families of those effected will find closure somehow.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I don't understand. How can the school and prefectural government be held responsible for a natural disaster? Are they suggesting that this could have been prevented? How?

The lawsuit isn`t seeking to hold the school or prefectural government responsible for a natural disaster, it is seeking to hold them responsible for their inadequate preparation for/response to a natural disaster. Nobody is suggesting the tsunami could have been prevented, but it seems clear that the specific deaths of these children could possibly have been prevented had they been taken up the hill.

I`m not sure if they will win or not, but that is the basic case they are making. The plan that the staff at the school actually executed - which took the kids right into the path of danger - was obviously not a sound one given the existence of a hill directly behind the school that could have (and for some of the students did) provide refuge. A lot of this is easy to say with the benefit of hindsight. The staff may not have been at fault for executing the plan, given the limited information they had and the need to make snap decisioins in stressful situation, but whoever was responsible for making that plan in the first place (possibly the prefecture?) might very well be.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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