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Sunday, April 10, 2011


Tragic echoes from the past

In a special, two-part Japan Times Gone By series, of which this is the last, we present original, contemporary reports on major earthquakes and tsunamis that have hit coastal areas of northeastern Honshu in recent times. This week, we focus on the magnitude 8.1 Showa Sanriku earthquake of March 3, 1933. Centered some 200 km east of Kamaishi in Iwate Prefecture (roughly 160 km northeast of the epicenter of March 11's magnitude 9 megaquake), the 1933 temblor and resulting tsunami took the lives of more than 3,000 people.

Saturday, March 4, 1933

Quake havoc

The severest earthquake experienced in northern Japan in scores of years was felt in Iwate Prefecture about 2:21 this morning. The populaces of several towns along the coast, many of whom have bitter and vivid memories of 1896 (the magnitude 8.2 Meiji Sanriku earthquake), promptly left their homes, taking refuge at places of vantage. As in 1896, the tremors were followed by tidal waves, the first coming at about 3:11 a.m.

More than 130 houses were destroyed in Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, and its vicinity. Fires broke out in the town of Kamaishi, also in Iwate, and the flames were left to rage as the citizens sought refuge as far away from the town limits as possible.

The earthquake was felt distinctly in Tokyo, many citizens rushing out of their homes into the streets. The time was about 2.30 a.m. and the vibrations could be felt for more than 10 minutes.

According to reports received from the Department of Home Affairs this morning, the districts around Kamaishi suffered the most.

In Kamaishi and the neighboring villages along the coast, hundreds of homes were carried away by the tidal waves, while a number of fishing vessels were also swept away by the surging waters.

According to reports from the different observatories in various prefectures, the center of the activity was 142 degrees East (longitude), and 33 degrees North (latitude), which is some 200 km from the island of Kinkazan (off Miyagi Prefecture, close to Sendai).

The earthquake is said to be the severest temblor felt in Iwate, surpassing the one that happened in 1896, when more than 13,317 houses were destroyed and 21,953 persons were killed.

Mr. Kunitomi, the famous meteorologist attached to the Central Weather Bureau, commenting on the northern prefectures, stated that the disturbances might have been felt as far away as Shikoku. It is believed to be the severest since the last great earthquake, in 1923 (the Great Kanto earthquake).

In order to investigate the damages caused by the earthquake, Mr. Masara, Mr. Masuda and Mr. Ishii of the Police Bureau of the Department of Home Affairs left Haneda by airplane to Miyagi Prefecture.

The following reports, published by different observatories in the affected areas, show the extent of the damages suffered.

Morioka observatory: In Miyako district, about 400 houses were inundated.

Ishinomaki Observatory: The coastline between Kinkazan and Kesennuma was swept away by the tidal waves, 4 to 7 feet (1.2 to 2.1 meters) in height.

His Majesty the Emperor made known his intention to grant a sum of money for the relief of the earthquake victims.

The Department of the Navy dispatched four airplanes from the Kasumigaura Air Corps (in Ibaraki Prefecture) and the Tateyama Air Corps (in Chiba Prefecture) this morning to Iwate and Miyagi prefectures for relief of the victims.

Sunday, March 5, 1933

Death toll mounts; waves claim most

While first reports yesterday indicated that the casualties in the earthquake disaster would not be so heavy, later ones show the death list has been mounting gradually until the figure is now said to be well over 1,600. The number of injured and missing is stated to be more than 1,300.

The greatest damage was wrought by the tidal waves which, far more than the seismic tremors or subsequent fires, brought considerable loss of life and destruction to property in their train.

The angry waters of the ocean sweeping onward like the early battle forces of an invincible army swept everything out of their way and, when they had receded, the state was a ghastly one — what were once fair and peaceful villages, now being littered with the wreckage of houses, of public buildings and the dead bodies of man and beast. Roads became muddy swamps, so water-engulfed that, with the exception of light modes of conveyance, such as bicycles or hand-carts, other vehicles could make no worthwhile headway.

Damage to property, including houses swept away or destroyed by the tidal waves, totals more than 10,000 houses, with Iwate Prefecture suffering most from the disaster. In one village in that prefecture, Taromura, 514 houses out of a total of 530 are known to have been destroyed by one tidal wave.

Various relief parties were sent to the scenes of the disaster to help the quake-stricken people. Extremely cold weather this morning added to the victims' suffering and hindered refuge work.

Destroyers from naval stations at Yokosuku (Kanagawa Prefecture) and Ominato (Aomori Prefecture), which were rushed to Kamaishi and other ports along the northern sea coast, did much to help the unfortunate people and allay their fears of further suffering from lack of food and other necessaries for life.

Mike Hamilton assisted in compiling this special Japan Times Gone By feature.

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