SENDAI – Residents of Fukushima and nearby prefectures evacuated quickly after Tuesday’s powerful earthquake rattled the Tohoku region, drawing on lessons from the 2011 tsunami disaster that claimed thousands of lives in the same part of northeastern Japan.
After the quake, which had a preliminary magnitude of 7.4, struck shortly before 6 a.m. off Fukushima Prefecture, about 30 residents of Iwaki evacuated to a local school, a designated evacuation shelter 700 meters from the shore, and gathered in classrooms on the third floor.
Nishikihigashi Elementary School in Iwaki urged its students by email to place top priority on taking refuge as emergency sirens wailed.
“A strong jolt came suddenly and the tremor lasted long,” the school’s vice principal said. “We want to ensure the safety of our children.”
The Iwaki Municipal Government introduced an email alert system following the March 11, 2011, mega-quake and tsunami disasters. On Tuesday, it sent messages urging around 15,000 registered residents to evacuate to higher ground.
People evacuating by car caused heavy traffic jams in the city. Some 300 people took shelter at an accommodation on a hill.
“I was prepared but never expected a strong earthquake like this would come again so soon,” said Hiroshi Niitsuma, a 46-year-old company employee who lost his home in the 2011 disasters.
Kazunori Yoshida, the 65-year-old head of an Iwaki fisheries cooperative, said some member ships sailed further out to sea after receiving tsunami warnings.
“Because we experienced the great earthquake (of 2011), we were able to act calmly,” he said.
About 30 vessels had been operating since early morning off the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant to collect underwater debris. Yoshida said there were no reports of damage from the tsunami.
A 1.4-meter-high tsunami was observed at Sendai port in Miyagi Prefecture.
Tohoku Electric Power Co. instructed its employees at a waterfront thermal power plant in Miyagino Ward in the city of Sendai to go to the third floor or higher.
“I saw surging tsunami from the window,” an employee said.
At a manufacturing plant in the area, workers who finished their night shifts were told to remain inside. Around 60 employees stayed in a dining room on the second floor of the factory.
“I decided that if I leave now, I could be engulfed by a tsunami,” one worker said.
A surge of water flowing up a river was observed in Tagajo, Miyagi Prefecture.
JR Sendai Station was crowded with people after train services were suspended. “I can’t go home,” said Tadashi Takahashi, a 65-year-old restaurant owner.
“The strong tremor reminded me of the (2011) disaster,” said Shoetsu Chiba, 67, a farmer from the city of Ishinomaki, which was devastated by the 2011 disasters. “I hope there is no damage (this time).”
In Higashimatsushima, another city in Miyagi, some 160 residents evacuated to a civic center on a hill.
“Because my town was swallowed up by the (2011) tsunami, I thought I have to go to higher ground,” said 61-year-old Keiko Sakurai.
At another shelter in the city, Setsuro Sugawara, 66, a municipal assembly member, said: “I always have a bag of disaster kits prepared. My experience in the (2011) disaster worked.”
In Sendai, authorities built 10-meter-high facilities for evacuees in coastal areas following the 2011 tsunami. On Tuesday a total of around 100 people temporarily evacuated to the three two-story structures known as tsunami evacuation towers.
“A number of people came (to the evacuation towers) in a real situation, not for a drill,” a city government official said. “We were able to apply lessons” from the past.
But evacuations were not as smooth in the city of Natori, also in Miyagi. While some residents tried to evacuate to the city hall, security guards refused their entry as no tsunami warning had been issued.
“They let us in only after negotiating for an hour. Their response was slow,” said 42-year-old Azusa Arakawa.
Hatsumi Ohisa, the head of the city’s disaster prevention division, admitted that the response was a mistake, saying, “Even when a tsunami warning was not issued, we should have opened (the government office) if requested.”