Yamamoto official who told staff to stay put could not have foreseen deadly waves, judge says

Court rejects nursery tsunami suit

Kyodo

The Sendai District Court turned down a damages suit Monday filed by relatives of two of three nursery children in the town of Yamamoto, Miyagi Prefecture, who were killed by the giant tsunami spawned by the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake off the coast of Tohoku.

The plaintiffs sought some ¥88 million in damages from the town, claiming staff members at a city-run nursery failed to take proper safety measures to protect the kids and made improper decisions to stay there instead of evacuate.

It was the first judicial ruling to be handed down regarding civil servants’ administrative responsibilities for instructions issued during the disasters.

In the trial, the relatives also argued that a town official involved in the case could have anticipated that tsunami would strike the nursery, which was situated on flat land just 1.5 km from the coast, but instead told the teachers to stay at the nursery.

In handing down the decision, Presiding Judge Maki Yamada acknowledged that the senior town official issued the instructions to stay at the nursery but could not have expected such large tsunami to strike.

As instructed by the town office after the massive earthquake struck on March 11, 2011, 13 children and 14 staffers stayed at the nursery. But three of the children were later killed in a car that was struck by tsunami about an hour and 15 minutes after the quake as they all attempted to flee.

All of the adults and 10 of the children survived.

In one of two similar lawsuits filed by relatives of tsunami victims, the court ordered the Hiyori kindergarten in Ishinomaki, also in Miyagi Prefecture, last September to pay ¥177 million in damages over the deaths of four children in the kindergarten’s bus, which was swamped by the high waves.

In February, the court rejected a suit against 77 Bank, a local bank in Sendai, the prefectural capital, filed by relatives of three employees killed by the tsunami.