Students return to school where 9-year-old girl died in Osaka earthquake

Kyodo

The school where a 9-year-old girl died after a powerful earthquake jolted Osaka this week reopened Thursday as staff members, students and local residents continued to grieve.

“I am really saddened,” Yoshimi Tanaka, principal of Juei Elementary School in the city of Takatsuki, Osaka Prefecture, said during a school assembly. “I cannot forget her — she was always surrounded by friends and looked happy.”

Some students shed tears during the assembly at the school where Rina Miyake was a fourth-grade student.

Unlike most elementary schools in the city, which reopened on Wednesday, the school needed more time for safety checks before resuming classes.

Pupils had to return home by lunchtime as the school is unable to provide meals due to continued interruptions to the area’s gas supply.

The school was to hold a meeting for the parents in the afternoon.

Miyake was crushed under a concrete wall that collapsed while she was on her way to school, after the magnitude 6.1 quake rocked the northern part of the prefecture.

Local police are investigating her death as a possible case of professional negligence, as concrete blocks around the school’s swimming pool had been piled higher than legal standards permit and without sufficient reinforcement.

“We cannot rule out the possibility of human error,” Takatsuki Mayor Takeshi Hamada said after placing flowers in front of the city-run school early in the morning. “I feel sorry for her.”

On Thursday the Osaka Prefectural Government decided to inspect all concrete walls made of blocks on routes taken by students going to local public schools.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrived in the prefecture in the morning and visited the site where the wall collapsed as well as other quake-hit areas.

“I want to ensure school safety by carrying out emergency inspections across the country,” Abe told reporters. “We must prevent a recurrence of this kind of tragedy.”

Local authorities said they have received reports of 417 buildings at public kindergartens, elementary, junior high and high schools being damaged.

The reports included cracks in exterior walls and a lamp that fell from the ceiling of a gymnasium, they said.

Of 1,444 public elementary and junior high schools in Osaka Prefecture, 160 schools remained closed on Wednesday.

The earthquake hit Osaka and surrounding areas on Monday, killing at least five people and injuring more than 400.

About 1,100 people had taken shelter at evacuation centers as of Thursday morning.

According to data from the internal affairs ministry and municipalities, the number of houses damaged now totals 2,352 in Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo and Nara prefectures.

Osaka has seen 1,940 homes damaged, with 407 in Kyoto, 3 in Nara and 2 in Hyogo.

Due to the quake, the gas supply is still cut off in Takatsuki and Ibaraki.

Osaka Gas Co. is aiming to resume the supply by Monday.

The quake was the biggest in the Kansai region since a magnitude 7.3 quake devastated Kobe and its vicinity in 1995, killing more than 6,000 people.