Ishinomaki: school re-opens after the loss of 74 of the 108 children but questions remain
Lee Jay Walker
Modern Tokyo Times
Many children were taken away by the powerful tsunami which was unleashed after the brutal 9.0-magnitude earthquake. Therefore, so many broken families and communities and the knowledge of children dying is heart wrenching.
Obviously every life is precious and age should never enter the equation when thinking about the deaths of around 28,000 people. However, something hits you “deep inside” to think about the loss of life of so many children.
The Okawa Elementary School was specially hit by the brutal tsunami which swept so many people away. This school which is located in Ishinomaki had 108 children but the power of nature killed 74 children from this one school (some of these children are missing but presumed dead) and every teacher bar one also perished.
Psychological effects of this tragedy, and all the other tragedies, will not be known in the short-term but clearly March 11 will always remain within their psyche. Many readers can empathize with the trauma, pain and anguish of this school but for these children life will never be the same.
Yes, many will rise up against such adversity and children are much stronger than adults think. Indeed, sometimes children can be stronger than adults because many terminally ill children have faced up to reality and done so with absolute bravery.
However, turning back to the school in Ishinomaki then clearly their innocence was taken away from them and the cold reality of life will become embedded within the psyche of each child. After all, it is normal for children to be focused on learning, playing, sport, and expanding their character.
Sadly, for the majority of children who attended Okawa Elementary School then they never got the chance to bloom and to see new horizons. More alarming, March 11 began just like any normal day but the speed of events meant that moments of laughter and joy were turned into unknown fear.
It appears that other schools in the same area escaped the deadly tsunami and parents demand to know what really happened. However, with only one surviving teacher, and with this teacher being under great stress and suffering from trauma, then patience is needed.
Apparently, only 8 children survived under the guidance of teachers from Okawa Elementary School because the other 26 survivors were picked up by their parents. This in itself raises questions because why is it that children who were picked up by their parents survived but children under the guidance of teachers mainly perished alongside the teachers who were also killed (apart from one lone surviving teacher)?
Information is still patchy but the general outline is that teachers tried to take the children to high ground but the steepness of the mountain appeared difficult to climb because many trees had fallen and the route seemed very hard and dangerous.
Therefore, many minutes were lost while debating what to do and sadly it appears that it was decided to head for an elevated bridge. It is still unclear at the moment if they reach the elevated bridge or if the tsunami struck before they reached the bridge.
Either way, the tsunami was engulfing everything in its way and it soon became apparent that time was running out and panic will have ensued. The final minutes will have been a nightmare and desperation will have led to internal chaos and fear.
A meeting was held whereby 97 relatives attended but few answers were given and not surprisingly many parents were angry. However, others were more understanding and obviously many parents who could have picked up their children will be in internal chaos.
Katsura Sato, a parent who lost her daughter Mizuho, stated “After the quake, I heard there would be a tsunami, but she was at the elementary school, so I thought she would be safe…….I just want to know how she spent her last minutes.”
Mourning for some parents can’t fully begin because many children are still missing but presumed dead. Until their bodies are found, then the grave lies empty and this is clearly causing added pain and anguish.
In time, the true events of what happened will become known and in the cold light of day the facts will come together like a jigsaw. However, the speed of the tsunami was great and damage by the 9.0-magnitude earthquake meant that many trees, buildings, and roads will have been damaged.
The teachers will have done everything in their power but the speed of events, major damage, and so many other factors; all conspired against Okawa Elementary School.
Therefore, the remaining survivors will face an uphill struggle and while their new school is being re-opened within a surviving school; it is clear that the events of March 11 will continue to be a nightmare and these children, alongside the sole surviving teacher, need all the support that they can get.