Sharing Session on Tohoku Earthquake--A Voice from the Disaster Site

【Reported by Shih-ting Huang】Invited by the School of Arts and Culture of the Dharma Drum University Preparatory Office, Mr. Satoru Hashiba, Deputy Mayor of Iwaizumi Town, Iwate Prefecture, Japan, shared his experience about the Tohoku earthquake which occurred on March 11, 2011. The sharing session took place in the Dharma Drum Degui Academy in the morning of July 29 and covered issues such as preparation and response before, during and after disasters.

Mr. Satoru Hashiba first showed the beauty of Iwate Prefecture by pointing out that being the largest prefecture in Japan, Iwate has fertile soil, bordering the vast ocean, with lush forests and rich water resources. It produces the highest-quality agricultural, dairy and fishery products. In terms of industry, Iwate produces gear parts for the five major vehicle manufacturers in Japan and makes the best kitchen knives in the world. The Chusonji Temple in Hiraizumi Town, an historical and cultural asset, was listed as a world heritage site by UNESCO. As for natural landscapes, the Dragon Fountain Cave in Iwaizumi is one of the only three limestone caves in Japan and is also a famous sightseeing spot. Mr. Satoru Hashiba lamented that it used to be a great pleasure to live there, but their happiness was taken away mercilessly by a natural disaster.

However, Mr. Satoru Hashiba also mentioned that this beautiful piece of land was actually no stranger to tsunamis. Two occurrences happened eighty and seventy years ago respectively. As a result, breakwaters and watergates were built up to a height of 13 meters. Nevertheless, they still failed to defend against the tsunami caused by the Tohoku earthquake and consequently some houses in Omoto were engulfed within seconds. Fortunately, the damage was minimized due to the government’s sustained effort in peacetime such as strengthening people’s sense of crisis, implementing disaster prevention education and training, and conducting periodic tsunami evacuation drills. The past tsunamis took away the lives of 228 and 185 people respectively. In contrast, the tsunami on March 11, 2011 killed only 3 people. Still, any loss of life was unbearable.

The quoted the successful evacuation of the Omoto Elementary School as an example. When the tsunami hit, teachers and students of the Omoto Elementary School in Iwaizumi town ran fast toward the escape ladder located at the back of the campus and climbe to a higher place. This case demonstrates that periodic evacuation drills are essential. All 88 school children survived. Hence, the escape ladder was called the “ladder to life” by local people.

Mr. Satoru Hashiba also expressed sincere appreciation to volunteers for their immediate participation in the disaster relief effort. Since most people in the town were senior citizens, high school students became the major manpower to conduct post-disaster recovery and reconstruction, including cooking and cleaning up debris. The volunteers’ contributions and care indeed consoled the victims.

Currently, Iwate prefecture is still under reconstruction. The Iwaizumi town government has developed a ten-year reconstruction plan, including completing infrastructure works within three years and assisting local people to resume their lives afterwards. Mr. Satoru Hashiba pointed out that whether it was the village relocation plan or the disaster prevention plan, people had learned that our lives were closely related to changes of nature. The most important thing is to treasure the land we live on. If people are taught how to prevent and react to disasters, then when one hits, they will be better equipped and will be able to respond instantly and correctly.

The issues Mr. Satoru Hashiba shared with the audience such as disaster prevention education, preparation before disasters, reaction during disasters and relief efforts after disasters all came from his valuable experience since he had participated in preventing and handling disasters. From his experience, we learned about the concept that the government and local communities should work hand in hand. Mr. Satoru Hashiba also provided many practical experiences regarding disaster prevention education for Taiwan to learn from. His sharing was valuable for us in terms of reducing the loss caused by disasters.

Finally, the Deputy Major thanked Taiwan for our assistance. He said they would never give up the long road of reconstruction and would bring all the blessings they received during their trip in Taiwan back to Japan.