Post-Disaster of Tohoku Earthquake, Building a New Hope Minamisanriku

A magnitude 9 earthquake or well known as Tohoku Earthquake occurred on March 11, 2011 at around 14.46 pm. The devastating earthquake became a nightmare for local community inhabiting along the east coast of Japan Sea. The catastrophe has given pains for those who lost family members and properties. Epicenter of the earthquake followed by huge
minamisanriku 1tsunami was detected at the depth of 32 km and a distance of 70 km at the east of Oshika Peninsula, Tohoku. More than 20.000 people died and missing after the earthquake and tsunami stroke. One of the cities affected is Minamisanriku that it is still in a recovery process. Local authority relocates people by building permanent residents at higher places, whereas affected areas is only used for public space and prohibited to be settled.

After 40 years, Minamisanriku community experienced again the huge tsunami at the height of 20 meters. The local community did not expect that tsunami waves exceeded the sea wall after the earthquake. They also did not expect a tsunami reaching evacuation sites that have previously been designed safe. Some of them evacuated towards higher places such as the Elementary School of Okawa, a building with the height of 20 meter above sea level. At such the height strong current of tsunami pushed off debris of buildings, houses, and everything to the school area.

Minamisanriku as the small town located at urban area is under administrative district of Miyagi Prefecture in the Tohoku region of northern Japan. The small city as a fishing industry was heavy damaged up to 90%. Houses, buildings and even infrastructures in the town were ruins and wiped out by the tsunami, along with cars or boats. Based on a local resident, around 1.000 lives of total population that was 17.500 were dead due to the disaster. More over, 2.000 lives decided to leave the city because of psychological burden, losing family members and works.

Most of local residents worked at fishing industry such as catching and fish processing that suffered tremendous losses. After the tsunami, the local community is focusing on tourism sector while they are building back the fishing industry. There is a new town hall and some shops using containers. The shops are built neatly. The local community sell some souvenir and fishery products.

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As a beautiful town along the beach, people in Minamisanriku did not expect how the devastating earthquake was. Within seconds, people life was ruined after tsunami hit anyone and everything while they were working at fishing industry. Ocean waves with speed 40 km/hour flatted leveled buildings and local residents’ houses up to 1 km from the beach. It was not the first tsunami experienced by the town inhabited around 14.000 people. A big tsunami once hit the town in 1960. But during the time, the epicenter of the earthquake triggering tsunami was not in Japan.

Precisely occurred thousands of kilometers away, the Valdivia-Chile, with a magnitude of 9.5 SR. Height of the tsunami triggered by the quake hit Minamisanriku up to 7 m. Communities around evacuate them to higher ground. Tsunami ever hit 55 years ago is encouraging the construction of a retaining wall around the coast tsunami with a height of 5 m.


What happened that morning was unpredictable felt by the local people. The poweful earthquake made Kazumo Goto rushed to a hill close to Okinawa School. He could still remember the scene a few decades ago. Kazumo along with several residents reached a hill and watched the tsunami hit buildings along the coast. After the incident, the public has always held evacuation drills to the mountain every May 25th. Residents have actually trained to do the drill, such as knowing where to evacuate, what equipment must be taken, and cooking together.

However, tsunami occurred 4 years ago were more devastating. “Tsunami reached a hill where we used to evacuate ourselves. Afterwards, we had to reach higher place,” Kazumo said. Even though Kazumo and other local residents evacuated to the higher places or at the elementary school of Okawa, tsunami still hit the school’s wall.

The 80 years old man told that the Watergate was not able to break the tsunami. “After tsunami in 1960, the Watergate had been built but it was useless as tsunami hit in 2011,” Kasumo said as one of local leaders. The tsunami caused 90% of fishermen boats swept away up to 1 km to land. Sea waves came towards land within 20 minutes after the earthquake. Around 400 families living along the coast became casualties. Two seconds after the earthquake, power was off all over the city. A clock at the school wall that showed 14.48 pm proved it.

Behind the disaster, a natural phenomenon gives positive side towards the coastal environment. Hisako mentioned that condition of the coast that had been contaminated changed like 50 years before. According to Yasuo Katsukura, seawater quality after the tsunami became better. It is evidenced by the results of marine aquaculture as the result of oysters that can be harvested within a period of 6 months. Previously, farmers will be harvesting oysters for two years. In addition, the quality of the oysters was better with the characteristics of a larger size.

Building a New Hope Minamisanriku

Prior to the earthquake and tsunami occurred, a population was about 17,000 people. But this time the population fell by 14,500 people. The fall in population due to a number of victims, and about 2,000 people left the city. They left the city because of the loss of their family members and work.

DSC_0038Minamisanriku Mayor Kensato illustrated that the administration area managed by him had been ruined. Slowly the local government has been recovering people’s lives. The government relocates local residents to higher ground; some of them still live in transition houses or temporary houses. “Government policy requires people to live in the higher ground,” explained Kensato, the man who survived despite the wave hit the water at the time he continued to warn the local residents to evacuate to higher ground. Total transition houses that are constructed like an apartment will be 28 towers.

Total budget for the rehabilitation and reconstruction Minamisanriku reaches 300 billion yen. Based on the policy of the central government, local government requires sharing the cost of 10% of the total budget. But considering the number is still too large, finally in October 2011 the central government to finance the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Minamisanriku City.

Kensato considered that much work after the disaster. The man who survived the disaster occurred said that he wanted to create more resilient communities. Strong society is key in disaster management. Infrastructure is not a guarantee of society saved from disaster. Kensato explained that there is a plan to build a 20-meter wall tide but the government does not have enough funds to build it.

Meanwhile, some of the new policy is expected to form, such as the use of land that was once home residents will be used as a public space. Kensato said that the reconstruction of the city is still being done but with the elevation of the land. Seaside town location will be used as commercial premises and offices. One thing that is still being debated by the local residents is the use of space as a legacy of historical place or heritage that illustrates the impact of the disaster. The local residents who have lost family members objected at utilization of the space.

Strategy of the local government is to build back life of Minamisanriku community, such as rebuilding the fishing industry and tourism as well as retaining the forestry and agricultural sectors. Formerly the fishing industry Minamisanriku town is famous for fish farming sector and processing of marine products.

Until 2015, the process of the rehabilitation of Minamisanriku City was still running. Looks heavy vehicles and heavy equipment back and forth to organize and developed the city. The city level and road building was in progress. Government and local communities with the support of the central government have been continuing to organize new life of Minamisanriku community.


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