Sunday 21 January 2018

Orphaned children waiting patiently in school for parents who will never collect them

Julian Ryall in Ishinomaki

IN a corner room at the Kama Elementary School, 30 children wait in silence for news that might never come.

It was home time when the tsunami swept through Ishinomaki on Friday afternoon, but the parents of these boys and girls didn't arrive to pick them up. Every day since then, they have sat here patiently, passing the time by reading books or playing cards, hoping their mothers and fathers might yet turn up at the school gates.

Some of them may be aware that their parents simply disappeared when the tsunami struck. The younger ones may have only their suspicions. But the silence is infectious and none of them seems to want to break it. The miserable plight of these orphans, aged between eight and 12, is heightened by the sound of other children noisily playing in the corridor outside -- schoolmates who still have their parents thanks to a fluke of geography or timing.

Masami Hoshi, the sports teacher at the school, has devoted his efforts to trying to obtain enough food for the 657 people now living in the four-storey building. He is also trying to locate missing students and their parents, achieving some success, but the 30 children are still alone.


"The tsunami came just when the parents of the middle classes were arriving to collect their children, so we managed to get them inside and to safety," Mr Hoshi said.

"The younger ones had left with their parents a little earlier. The ones who went to homes behind the school probably survived. Those who went that way..." -- he points across a playground coated with grey mud towards a main road littered with cars, electricity pylons and shattered glass -- "...probably didn't make it."

Even though the school is a mile from the sea wall that was meant to protect Ishinomaki, the torrent of water raced across the playground and into the ground floor of the building. A clear line on the wall shows how high it reached. It is chest-high on an adult and above the heads of most of the pupils here.

"Some of the parents were sucked back out across the playground when the waters receded so we grabbed fire hoses and threw them out and dragged them all back in," said Mr Hoshi.

The school has no power, heating or running water. The swimming pool to the rear of the building is brimming with murky water brought by the tsunami that families are using to wash the mud off their shoes and clothing. In one room, 31 people are crammed together to sleep on cushions and blankets on the floor. There has been a light snow for the past two days and temperatures inside the school are below zero for much of the day. Nearly 163,000 people are listed as residents of Ishinomaki and, so far, 425 have been confirmed as dead with another 1,693 missing.

It may take many weeks to discover the fate of the children's parents and brothers and sisters, if they are ever found at all.

We are not allowed to enter the classroom or speak to the children. Understandably, the teachers do not want their charges to have more reminders of the disaster that has befallen them.

And the sound of a door sliding open behind them might falsely raise their hopes that their parents have at last arrived to take them home. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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