Daily News

3. Families win damages for tsunami victims

A Japanese court has ordered local governments in northeastern Japan to compensate families of school children who were lost in the massive 2011 tsunami.

The court ordered the governments of Ishinomaki City and Miyagi Prefecture to pay more than 13 million dollars to the families.

Seventy-four students at Okawa Elementary School in Miyagi Prefecture died or are missing. That's the largest number of children lost at any school during the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

The families of 23 of the children filed the lawsuit for damages.

A key issue is whether the teachers could have known that the tsunami would reach the school, about 4 kilometers from the coast.

At the Sendai District Court on Wednesday, presiding judge Kenji Takamiya ruled that the school could have predicted the tsunami. He said that teachers should have heard a warning from a public vehicle that the tsunami was coming at least 7 minutes before it actually hit the area.

Takamiya also noted that a riverside intersection the teachers and children headed to was an improper evacuation site because it is only 7 meters above sea level.

He said it was possible to evacuate to a nearby hill, which had been used for classes by the school. He added that it only takes about a 1 minute to run up the hill.

The boards of education in Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima prefectures say it is the first time authorities have been held liable for failing to evacuate schoolchildren effectively, despite the school being a predetermined evacuation site.

One of the plaintiffs, Hiroyuki Konno, told reporters after the ruling that he appreciates the court backing the idea that schools should be responsible for protecting children in anticipation of a tsunami.

Ishinomaki City Mayor Hiroshi Kameyama said he will examine the ruling and consider how to respond. The governor of Miyagi Prefecture, Yoshihiro Murai, made a similar comment.