Lecture explores the tragedy of Taro, Japan

“Town of Taro, Japan, and the 2011 Earthquake and Tsunami” was the third lecture in the “This is Geography” series presented by associate professor of geography, Todd Stradford. The presentation gave an in-depth look at what happened before, during and after the disaster that hit the small fishing village of Taro, Japan, a site that Stradford has been interested in since he was five.

“My father fought in the Korean War and he brought stuff back from Japan. This started my interest in Japan. Graduate school brought me back,” Stradford said.

The presentation started with a brief description of Taro’s location and the geographical features that surround it. Taro is located on the Ria Coastline and was destroyed by a tsunami in 2011. It is the central meeting point for four of Earths active moving plates. Tokyo receives the most earthquakes because its location is the exact center point of the four plates. Taro has to deal with  earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes. One of the active volcanoes around the island is the Sakurajima volcano.

In 1914 Sakurajima erupted, causing major damage to the surrounding homes. The first signs of eruption happened on Jan. 9 when the villagers noticed the water in the wells was boiling. On Jan. 12, dark smoke began to surround gather and on Jan. 13, three billion tons of lava engulfed the town. This disaster trapped 687 homes in three meters of lava. The town was devastated, but this event did not deter many residents from coming back to the small town.

With all the moving plates, Taro has become home to many earthquake-tsunami mixtures. In 869, the second largest tsunami hit the town and caused damages to homes and stores. There was another one in 1611, Meiji Tsunami in 1896 which was 15 meters high, and Showa Tsunami in 1933 which was10-meters high.

The destruction was getting to be too much for the small fishing town and they decided to build a wall to keep the tsunamis out. The 10-meter high wall’s construction started shortly after the 1933 tsunami but was put on hold at the start of World War II. In 1958 the wall was completed, and it successfully slowed the 1960 tsunami. Because the wall seemed to be a success, extensions were built in 1967 and again in 1978. Along with the wall, the people of Taro added a tsunami alarm in 1954, evacuation routes in 1986 and tsunami view positioning systems in 1996. All of these systems were put in place to better prepare the town for the next tsunami that came into the harbor. Unknowing to the citizens of Taro, the emergency systems they installed would stand little chance against the most recent tsunami to wreak havoc on their shores.

The most recent disaster that has practically wiped the town out was in 2011, reaching a maximum height of 38.2 meters. March 11, 2011, began with a megathrust earthquake that gave citizens about an hour to evacuate the area and get to safer grounds before the tsunami hit. The waters gave no mercy on the small town of Taro and within minutes, houses were demolished and families were washed away in the waters.

“Houses looked like they were in a washing machine,” Stradford said.

After this disaster, the town had to shut down, except for a gas station, solar array, and a fishing and ice house. There are very few civilians left living in the area, only about 5,000. Those who tried to find safer homes received no assistance from the government. Some of the displaced residents attempted to rebuild their homes on higher grounds because they did not want to sell their lands. Others tried to move to new locations altogether because they did not want to rebuild in a “tsunami zone.” The displaced families that tried to leave did not get much compensation from the government because the government refused to give them tsunami insurance due to their location.

“The most shocking thing to me was the lack of participation from the government. You thought there would be more help since it was a natural disaster,” sophomore agricultural business major Michaela Siebarth said.

The overall statistics from the March 2011 tsunami that hit Taro, Japan were much lower than previous disasters, but even so, 178 are dead and 30 are missing. Most of the casualties occurred from individuals standing on the wall the see what was happening. The wave came in faster than they could get to safety.

“It was not the wall that saved them. Education saved them,” Stradford said.

Stradford thinks that if the national government would have been faster to respond, fewer casualties would have occurred. The government was too focused on the nuclear meltdown of towers number two and four to pay much attention to the natural disasters happening right around the corner.