THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
December 5, 2016 at 18:50 JST
KESENNUMA, Miyagi Prefecture–As a piece of living history, a school engulfed in the 2011 tsunami here opened to the public for the first time, offering a stark lesson to its destructive force.
Vehicles swept in the 14-meter waves, spawned by the Great East Japan Earthquake, remain on the grounds of Miyagi Kesennuma Koyo High School, 500 meters inland.
Plates of metal, wooden scraps, tires, cabinets and other debris are scattered all around so that just walking through a building was difficult.
“I thought I had known what the disaster was like from media reports, but seeing a car sitting on the third floor taught me how powerful the tsunami was,” said Satoshi Tanaka, a Kanagawa prefectural government official who has been dispatched to the Kesennuma civil engineering office.
Tanaka, 41, was one of 135 visitors from within and outside the prefecture who were allowed in to the former buildings at the school on Dec. 3.
The weekend session was the last opportunity to see the structures firsthand before maintenance and clean-up work begins.
The four-story south building, which was directly hit by the tsunami, will open as a disaster monument in fiscal 2018. All other damaged facilities will be demolished.
The south building was made of reinforced concrete, but the southwestern corner of its top floor was broken away when a seafood processing plant carried off in the tsunami crashed into it.
A car that smashed through the window in a classroom had come to rest upside down on the third floor of the south building.
On the stairs, what was frozen fish had drifted to a stop where it dried into a black blob. The handrails that remained were twisted into one, bent or entangled with each other.
The floors were full of debris including toppled chairs and glass shards. Steel frames and electrical cords hung from the ceilings.
About five cars were piled up on the roof of the outside corridor connecting the north building and a facility for vocational training.
No one was killed in the disaster.
Before the tsunami struck, all 170 students were evacuated to outside the school grounds. In addition, 51 other individuals, including teachers, school staff and local residents, were unharmed after they fled to the fourth floor of the north building.
(This article was written by Tatsuya Sasaki and Norihiko Kuwabara.)