Unclaimed school backpacks pulled from 3/11 tsunami debris incinerated


Authorities in Natori, Miyagi Prefecture, said Thursday they have begun to incinerate about 3,000 backpacks and other school pupils’ belongings washed ashore in the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami after their owners could not be found.

The items, including leather rucksacks, other bags and musical instruments, had been kept at the former site of Yuriage Elementary School after being retrieved by Self-Defense Forces personnel and volunteers raking through tsunami debris in the months following the disaster.

The authorities had held regular viewings of the items and took requests from people wishing to look through them, but received only two such requests since April last year.

The city said it decided to dispose of the items due to diminishing public interest and the lack of a suitable storage facility, with the current site scheduled to be demolished in the near future as part of land rezoning.

Incineration began Wednesday and is scheduled to run through Friday.

About 240,000 photographs also recovered from the debris have been digitized and can be viewed at six community centers in Natori.

City employee Hiroshi Ogasawara who oversaw the collection for about two years, said the items were deteriorating after nearly five years in storage.

“It’s a shame we couldn’t return those memories to (the children’s) families as we wanted to,” Ogasawara said.