The Japanese coastal place Fudai overcame the tsunami disaster nearly without any damage – because a former mayor had a gigantic protection wall being built.

Disaster in Japan: Gigantic wall saves Japanese village from tsunami - Comment on 2011 May 14 (4)

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2011 May 14 (4)
But the disasters of the past vanished with most of the Japanese into oblivion. Even milestones which remind of devastating tsunamis in the Middle Ages, were ignored: Engravings on the monuments urged not to settle too close to the coast but on hills. Read more:

The Japanese coastal place Fudai overcame the tsunami disaster nearly without any damage – because a former mayor had a gigantic protection wall being built. At that time he was abused, today the inhabitants celebrate this in the meantime deceased politician as hero.

To what all did the mayor of the small place Fudai at the north east coast of Japan, Kotaku Wamura, had to listen in the seventies: It is a waste of money, to put up the ugly almost 16 metre high wall on the outskirts of the town as tsunami protection. The critics referred to the neighbours: Other communes nearby trusted in clearly smaller works of protection against flood waves. Must it really be this 25 million euro structure in Fudai?

Today the answer is clear: The wall has saved the life of the 3000 inhabitants of Fudai. While the villages and towns of the neighbourhood got devastated by the tsunamis on the 11th of March, the people of Fudai got off with no more than a fright. The gigantic flood waves bounced off the high wall. “It was expensive,” said the fisher Satoshi Kaneko from Fudai, “but without the wall we all would have vanished.”

Also today’s mayor of Fudai is pleased with the work of his predecessor: “The effectiveness of the flood wall is impressive”, Hiroshi Fukawatari is still amazed. Also he had doubted that the gigantic construction was necessary. But the view to the neighbourhood shows what would have happened with a smaller structure: The protection walls in the neighbouring places were simply washed over. The town Taro for example trusted in a ten metre high embankment of two and a half kilometre extent - the tsunami shot over it.

Also the wall of Fudai was partly washed over by the 20 metre waves. But the high embankment robbed the water of its power; just a few puddles were produced; there were hardly any damages. On both sides of the wall mountains blocked the access of the water.

The deceased mayor Kotaku Wamura is now the celebrated man. He governed the village for ten parliamentary terms: Directly after World War II he was elected; he remained in office till 1987. The small place experienced a heyday: It attracted fisher; tourists enjoyed the white beaches.

But Wamura smelled a rat; he knew the negative side of the coastal position: 1896 and 1933 tsunamis had killed hundreds of people in the region. The waves were though distinctly smaller than those of the 11th of March 2011. But the disasters of the past vanished with most of the Japanese into oblivion. Even milestones which remind of devastating tsunamis in the Middle Ages, were ignored: Engravings on the monuments urged not to settle too close to the coast but on hills.

In a book about his hometown Fudai mayor Wamura shows his fright about the disaster of 1933: “When I saw the dead, buried underneath heaps of earth, I did not know what I should say”. He swore to himself that such a disaster should not happen again.

1967 he had the construction of the tsunami wall started. It was supplemented by a flood gate through which the river could flow. Especially the high costs of the gate were controversial. Land owners had to sell part of their properties to the state so that the protection embankment could come into being.

After the sea quake of the 11th of March the flood gate was immediately closed. A fireman came running up to help with the hands when the gate stuck. Shortly after the tsunamis came. They destroyed the boats in the harbour of Fudai – then the waves hit the wall. An elementary school directly behind the protection embankment still today looks exactly like before the tsunamis.

Mayor Wamura no longer experienced the day when his construction proved itself. He died 1997 88 years old. The inhabitants of Fundai show themselves moved; since the tsunamis many of them have brought gifts to the grave of Mayor Wamura. The wall was his lifework, three years after it was completed Wamura gave up his office. “Also when there is resistance have trust and finish what you have started”, he said to the employees at his discharge. “In the end people will understand.”

 

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