Japan Tsunami Anniversary: Father Remembers Daughter Lost in 2011 Disaster

This is the scene in Ishinomaki on that fateful day of March 11, 2011 when an earthquake and tsunami struck the coastal city. It was one of the hardest hit, having lost more than 3,000 residents. 84 of them were lost at this one school.

This father found his daughter Mai underneath the dirt and dug her up Noriyuki Suzuki believes the school never had a proper disaster plan in place and wants others to learn from it.

Noriyuki lost his 12-year old daughter here in the 2011 tsunami. Very little remains of her Okawa Elementary School where she attended. The water came up to where a white sign is up on a hill. If the 84 kids had just evacuated above the white sign, then their lives could have been saved.
Instead, the teachers led the students the wrong direction where there was a dead end and that’s where the waves crashed over them.

“When I found her, I saw feet. She had her school shoes on. And there I saw Mai written in kanji,” said Noriyuki. “If I could see her again, I’d just want to embrace her. I wouldn’t have the right words”

Noriyuki wants the world to know what happened here. He says the Olympic torch relay was the perfect opportunity. He applied and was selected as one of the torchbearers who reflect the Olympic spirit.

“It’s not just to run,” says Noriyuki. “I want to run with Mai and the lost kids.”

Japan is preparing for the 2020 Summer Olympics with a pledge to host the first games powered entirely with renewable energy, and it would like nothing more than to put the legacy of the nuclear disaster behind it.

The tragic events of March 11, 2011, are the single biggest reason for the smudgy stain on a country that used to lead on climate change. Fifty-four nuclear reactors once supplied almost a third of Japan’s electricity, free from greenhouse-gas emissions. That gave Japan an enviable profile among wealthy nations. The massive earthquake and tsunami triggered meltdowns at three reactors operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc. (Tepco), forcing the country to slam the brakes on nuclear energy. Today, 24 of Japan’s 33 operable reactors remain offline.

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