Trauma of the children affected by the Tohoku tsunami

Students left waiting in school for parents who may never turn up
04:46 AM Mar 18, 2011

ISHINOMAKI (Japan) – They sit still, apparently engrossed reading books or playing card games. They are watched over by other relatives or teachers and the media are not allowed to speak to them. Understandably, they do not want their charges to be reminded of the disaster that befell them – their parents simply disappeared when the tsunami swept through the town.

“The tsunami came just when the parents of the middle classes were arriving to collect their children,” sports teacher Masami Hoshi said.

“The ones who went to homes behind the school probably survived. Those who went that way” – he points across a playground coated with mud towards a main road littered with cars, electricity pylons and shattered glass – “probably didn’t make it.”

Even though the Kama Elementary School is about 1.6km away from the sea wall that was meant to protect Ishinomaki, the wall of water raced across the playground and into the ground floor of the building.

Since then, Mr Hoshi has been trying to get enough food for the 657 people living in the four-storey building and locate missing students and their parents. He has achieved that with a handful, but 30 children are still alone.

The school has no electricity, heating or running water. Mr Hoshi is waiting for food to be delivered and has no idea how long that might take.

Children’s pictures are still on the walls and show images of mountains, animals and a boat on the ocean. A middle-aged woman keeps up a constant – but near-hopeless – effort to sweep the corridors of congealed mud and debris.

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 these children’s parents and brothers and sisters, if they are ever found at all. THE DAILY TELEGRAPH


HEARTBREAK: 30 children still sit at school, waiting for parents to come…

Daily Mail, 18th March 2011

Even amid the carnage and despair of Japan’s tsunami victims, the plight of the 30 children at Kama Elementary School is heartbreaking.

They sit quietly in the corner of a third-floor classroom where they have waited each day since the tsunami swept into the town of Ishinomaki for their parents to collect them. So far, no one has come and few at the school now believe they will.

Teachers think that some of the boys and girls, aged between eight and 12, know their fathers and mothers are among the missing and will never again turn up at the gates of the school on the eastern outskirts of the town, but they are saying nothing.

Instead, they wait patiently reading books or playing card games watched over by relatives and teachers, who prevent anyone from speaking to them.

Officials fear that even the sound of the door sliding back might raise false hope that a parent has come to collect them. Their silence is in marked contrast to other children playing in the corridors of the four-storey building, whose parents survived due to a complete fluke.

Sports teacher Masami Hoshi said: ‘The tsunami came just when the parents of the middle age group were starting to arrive to collect their children so we managed to get them inside and to safety.

‘The younger ones had left with their parents a little earlier. The ones who went to homes behind the school probably survived, the ones who went the other way probably didn’t.’

The school, where children’s paintings still line the walls, has no running water, electricity or heating but is home to 657 people living among corridors and rooms filled by mud and debris. It is a mile from the sea wall that was meant to protect Ishinomaki.

When the tsunami struck, 160,000 people were living in the town, which is about 50 miles north-east of Sendai. So far 425 have been confirmed dead with another 1,693, including the parents of the 30 pupils, listed as missing.

The terrible toll of Japan’s double disaster became clearer as it emerged as many as 25,000 people could be dead after Ishinomaki officials confirmed that 10,000 of their citizens were missing.

The estimated 10,000 people missing in Ishinamaki is the same figure given as in the town of Minamisanriku, also in Miyagi state, which lost around half its population when it was razed to the ground by the 20 foot high wall of water.

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Trauma stalks children of Japan tsunami

By Hiroshi Hiyama (AFP)

KESENNUMA, Japan – The horror of Japan’s tsunami has raised concerns over the long-term impact on children, some of whom are already displaying signs of trauma, from screaming nightmares to silent withdrawal.

According to the charity Save the Children, around 100,000 children were displaced by what has become Japan’s worst natural disaster since 1923, with nearly 20,000 people dead or missing.

The potential for lasting trauma is compounded by the unusual multiple nature of the event: a massive 9.0 earthquake, a devastating tsunami and a nationwide scare over a possible meltdown at a nuclear plant.

Experts say the scale of the loss and disruption for some children would have been almost inconceivable: homes destroyed, friends disappeared, one or both parents maybe killed, or siblings and other close family members missing.

Initial efforts to help them come to terms with the tragedy can only be made in extremely stressful circumstances, with families packed into ill-equipped evacuation shelters, suffering bitterly cold nights and frequent terrifying aftershocks.

“We found children in desperate conditions, huddling around kerosene lamps and wrapped in blankets,” said Save the Children spokesman Ian Woolverton, who visited a number of evacuation centres in the coastal regions of northeast Japan that bore the brunt of the March 11 tsunami.

“They told me about their anxieties, especially their fears about radiation,” Woolverton said, adding that several youngsters had mentioned the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which they know from school books.

Parents, many traumatised themselves, have struggled to keep their own fears in check as they try to soothe their children and provide them with some sense of normality and security.

Atsushi Takahashi, 36, said his two-year-old son Haruto has been terrified by the constant, sometimes powerful aftershocks.

“He’s been very scared, crying out ‘the house is shaking. I don’t like the house’,” Takahashi said, holding his son as he waited in a queue for a truck bringing fresh water to his neighbourhood.

“I always tell him that everything is okay and I hug him,” Takahashi said. “I think we just have to let time heal the wounds.”

Many children have had trouble sleeping, woken repeatedly in the night by bad dreams, while others have mentally shut down, shunning any company but their parents, whom they refuse to let out of their sight for even a moment.

Woolverton said the priority for his group was to set up “child-friendly spaces” where children of a similar age could interact and start to play together again.

“I know from years of experience that if children play, it can ward off the chance of major long-term emotional trauma,” he said.

“The idea is also to relieve the stress on parents and to give them a break from childcare duties as they register for emergency assistance, try to find food, locate friends and family members and, in the longer term, jobs and housing.”

Grandparents have tried their own form of therapy, telling children stories of the difficulties they faced in their own childhood during and after World War II, and how they managed to overcome them.

“We have to live at whatever cost,” said Shigenori Kikuta, 72.

“We have to tell our young people to remember this and pass on our story to future generations, for when they become parents themselves,” he said.

The middle of his three grandsons had, Kikuta said, been “really shaken up” having fled to higher ground and safety only to watch the tsunami obliterate the town of Kesennuma, where he lived.

But if the disaster underlined the vulnerability of young children, it also highlighted their often extraordinary resilience.

Keiko Kudo, 36, said she had managed to explain “to a certain extent” to her eight-year-old daughter what had happened.

“It’s been difficult, but she has been well overall,” Kudo said.

Inside a classroom of Kesennuma Elementary School, where some 400 people have been sheltered, 10-year-old Shotaro Koizumi watched over his six-year-old sister Haruna, while their father worked with other adults to run errands and exchange information.

Haruna said she was looking forward to starting first grade in April, but was disappointed that her new bag and school clothes had been lost in the tsunami.

Haruna was at daycare and Shotaro at school when the quake hit.

“I was worried about my family. My sister is very young, you see,” Shotaro said. “When I saw them, I was so happy.”

Copyright © 2011 AFP. All rights reserved. Retr. fr. websource 20 Mar 2011 Agence France-Presse

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