3/11 tsunami killed 35% of students ‘saved’ by parents


More than a third of the students aged 15 and under who died or went missing in the March 11 quake and tsunami lost their lives after being picked up from school by their parents, according to a Kyodo News survey.

In Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, a total of 342 students at public elementary and junior high schools died or were unaccounted for, of whom 120 had been picked up from school by their parents. The students are believed to have been hit by tsunami after leaving school buildings.

Some schools are now considering a basic policy of prohibiting parents from picking up their children when tsunami and other disaster warnings are issued, after it was found that almost all of the students in the area who remained at school March 11 survived.

An expert panel set up by the education ministry is also calling for students and parents alike to remain in schools in the event of a tsunami.

In Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, Kama Elementary School allowed parents to come and take their children after the quake until it became aware that a tsunami warning had been issued. The school was following its basic policy of allowing parents to pick up students in the event of a natural disaster. Of its student body, 22 lost their lives.

The policy, which was meant to protect the students, “worked negatively,” Principal Hiroshi Tsuda said. “If we had known that the tsunami was coming, we would never have handed over the students to their parents.”

All of the city’s roughly 3,000 students who remained at their schools escaped serious harm, according to the local board of education.

Toshitaka Katada, a Gunma University professor and expert on social engineering for natural disasters, said students threatened by a tsunami can better evacuate to safer ground when they move in groups and have appropriate instructions from teachers. And if the situation dictates it, they can use school buildings for protection, he added.

The education ministry plans to release a set of guidelines next month on measures to be implemented by schools during earthquakes and tsunami.