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Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012

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Before and after: Onagawa, Miyagi Prefecture, was a disaster zone in March last year but one of calm last month. KYODO

Ex-mayor recalls 3/11 priorities, atomic fears


Staff writer

When the March 11, 2011, disasters struck, Nobutaka Azumi was performing his emergency mayoral duties, arranging public evacuation sites for tsunami victims and being constantly briefed on the status of the Onagawa power plant in his Miyagi Prefecture community.

"It was a really hectic day. When the government declared the state of nuclear emergency (that evening), I was working to secure the safety of town officials and residents. At least, I knew the nuclear plant was not in danger like the one in Fukushima, because I was being briefed on its status very thoroughly," the former mayor said at a symposium Wednesday.

Azumi spoke of his experience during a panel discussion on the theme: "Learning how to form agreements through the severe experience right after the quake."

The event was organized by Kozo Keikaku Engineering Inc., a quake-resistance technology company.

Among information Azumi said he received was that one out of five external electricity sources survived the megaquake and tsunami at Tohoku Electric Power Co.'s Onagawa nuclear plant, thus the reactor cooling system remained operable.

That was not the case at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 plant, which lost all external and emergency power when tsunami overran the complex. The loss of the cooling systems led to three reactor meltdowns in the ensuing days.

During the first 30 minutes after the magnitude 9.0 primary quake and before the first tsunami, Azumi went to the Onagawa town hospital to check if its roof, 16 meters above ground, could serve as a place to flee the tsunami.

He said he first heard the expected tsunami would be up to 6 meters high, but felt this was probably an underestimate.

Azumi went back to the town building and survived the tsunami there. It was a cold day and he worried the temperature would drop to dangerous levels, thus he needed to arrange for evacuation shelters for his citizens, many of whom were stranded on the rooftops of tall buildings, watching the tsunami wash away their homes, he said.

For the next few months, he recalled having the difficult daily task of trying to ease the survivors' insecurity. "There was absolutely no food," he said, recalling the first few days.

When the town received donated food, he made sure it was distributed to every resident, not just those who lost homes. He realized that residents who didn't lose their homes also had little food, and in many cases were giving what they had to others in need.

Onagawa lost about 10 percent of its 10,000 citizens in the calamity.



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