Miyagi: Miyagi facility gets people thinking about disaster reaction

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Visitors watch a disaster prevention study program at the Minamisanriku 311 Memorial in Minami-Sanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, on Oct. 1.

MINAMI-SANRIKU, Miyagi — “What would you do?” is a question that visitors are asked when visiting the recently opened Minami-Sanriku 311 Memorial in the town of Minami-Sanriku, Miyagi Prefecture.

The facility, which opened 11½ years after the Great East Japan Earthquake, provides information on the disaster, including a disaster prevention study program based on accounts of survivors. Visitors are encouraged to think about disasters as something that can happen to themselves.

Three screens inside the facility’s auditorium show interviews with townspeople who were affected by the earthquake and tsunami. One of the situations introduced is the true story about what happened at the town’s Togura Elementary School. Opinions were divided over where to take shelter, with some saying they should run up to roof of the school building 11 meters from ground. Others thought they should go up a hill 17 meters above sea level about 200 meters away from the school.

It doesn’t take long to get on the roof, but if the tsunami is bigger than anticipated, everyone will be trapped. Escaping to the hill will take longer with 110 students.

The recounts by the school’s principal and teachers reveal that they repeatedly discussed the issue.

“The rooftop or the hill?” a voice in the video asks the audience as the footage pauses.

A minute later, the film restarts. The principal, amid a violent tremor of a strength never experienced before, decides to evacuate to the hill. Forty minutes later, the tsunami flooded the school with water levels up to the roof.

“Natural disasters occur in an unimaginable scale. You have to think and make a decision in a split second. It could be a life-or-death decision,” the video concludes.

The Minamisanriku 311 Memorial opened as part of Sansan Minami-Sanriku, a roadside complex that includes the adjacent Minamisanriku Sun Sun Shopping Village market and Shizugawa Station on the JR Kesennuma Line’s bus system. The memorial facility is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and closed on Tuesdays. There are seven video programs, each lasting either 30 or 60 minutes. The screening schedule can be checked at the facility’s website.