ISHINOMAKI, Miyagi–The Ishinomaki municipal board of education and the principal at Okawa Primary School in the city of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, have admitted responsibility for events that led to the deaths of up to 84 people killed by the Great East Japan Earthquake.
The board had been reexamining evacuation measures taken by the school after 74 students and 10 teachers were killed or went missing as a result of the March 11 tsunami.
During a meeting with parents on Sunday, the board for the first time admitted there were problems with the school’s evacuation instructions and apologized for the lack of guidance to students during the disaster.
Since March 11, parents of children who died had accused the school of being irresponsible and complained that education authorities had failed to provide adequate explanations regarding the tragedy.
About 80 parents attended the meeting, which was used by the board to present the results of investigations made since last summer. It was the first meeting in seven months, following two that were held April and June last year. The press were allowed to attend the meeting for the first time, which held at another school in the city.
The meeting began with an apology from Naohiko Sakai, the head of the municipal education board, who told parents, “We regret that students became victims of the tsunami when they were at school, where their safety should have been most secure. We should have raised our awareness about the possible dangers of tsunami.”
The principal of Okawa Primary School, Teruyuki Kashiba, also apologized to parents. “I should be blamed because I was inadequate as principal,” he said. “I should have prepared an adequate disaster manual and raised awareness among teachers about the level of danger.”
“I know I am beyond forgiveness no matter how much I apologize. But I’m determined to continue apologizing,” he said.
In presenting the findings of the reexamination of the school’s actions, board members said the high number of victims of the disaster was a result of various factors.
Board members found that there was no specific evacuation site written in the school’s disaster manual, teachers had insufficient awareness of the danger, and staff assumed, based on their past experience, that the tsunami would not reach the school .
The education board admitted responsibility for failing to take appropriate measures on the day and said, “We received information about tsunami but we failed to take proper evacuation measures.” Sakai also accepted responsibility, “There were flaws in our guidance and supervision.”
Kashiba said he was to blame for the fact that there was no specific evacuation site mentioned in the disaster manual. “It was my negligence,” he said.
The board outlined events on March 11 and said teachers collected all the students in the schoolyard shortly after the earthquake that occurred at 2:46 p.m. Teachers were told by fleeing residents, a municipal announcement car and radio reports that that they should escape to a nearby mountain because a massive tsunami was on its way. But the board said teachers and students stayed at the school for about 40 minutes.
The school was eventually evacuated after teachers heard a broadcast from a municipal car that the tsunami had gone over a nearby pine forest at about 3:30 p.m. But while traveling to higher ground, teachers and students were swept away by the tsunami.
The meeting caused a mixed reaction among the parents. A man who lost his daughter said, “I think it’s a step forward as the school board has admitted its responsibility. I want to get further explanations.”
But Haruo Takahashi, 52, who lost his two children in the disaster, flatly said, “This is not progress as the explanation is the same as what was given in the first and second meetings. The education board just made excuses.”
Yoshiaki Suzuki, 49, whose daughter remains missing said, “I appreciate that the board admitted responsibility for events on the day, but no one has been held accountable.”
The board said at a press conference held after the meeting that it may ask experts to further analyze what actions teachers should have taken on March 11.