Friday, April 29, 2011

School that lost 70% of its pupils mourns

Friday, April 29, 2011

News photo
Valediction: Family members pray for students killed by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami Thursday at Okawa Elementary School in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, after a memorial service. KYODO PHOTO

Buddhist rites: Tohoku marks 49th day since thousands died

ISHINOMAKI, Miyagi Pref. — An elementary school in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, held a memorial service Thursday for the 70 percent of its students lost in the March 11 earthquake and tsunami — marking in Buddhist terms the 49th day since death when the souls of the departed enter another world.
News photo
New life: Cherry blossoms come into bloom along the Okawa River in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, on Thursday near a house destroyed by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. KYODO PHOTO
The photos of the 84 victims — 74 children and 10 teachers — from the city-run Okawa Elementary School were displayed in honor of the dead at the ceremony, which had to be held at another school due to building damage. Okawa Elementary School started a new academic year there on April 21.
The altar placed inside the school gym was decorated with pink and white flowers, and photos of the smiling children were arranged by grade.
Attendees included the families of the victims as well as members of the Self-Defense Forces, police and fire departments who searched for them.
One of the attendees, Nao Takahashi, 73, from Higashimatsushima, Miyagi Prefecture, lost two young relatives in the disaster, a girl in the second grade and the other in the fourth.
"Although I wasn't feeling very strongly that (their deaths) are real, looking at their portraits displayed like that." she said, her words tailing off. "I want them to get along well in heaven."
Many pupils and school staff members perished in the tsunami that rushed upstream along a local river while they were fleeing to higher ground from Okawa Elementary School, which was located about 5 km from the mouth of the river.
Of the 108 children at the school, 67 were confirmed dead as of Wednesday morning with seven still missing. Of the 13 schoolteachers and others, nine were killed and one was still missing.
Meanwhile, Ground Self-Defense Force troops mounted an intensive search on the Miyagi coast on the same day to look for those still missing, many of them believed to have been washed away by the waves.
Counting March 11, Thursday marked the 49th day since the disaster. Buddhist services are normally held to mark the day in the belief that it is when the souls of the dead can depart for another world.
After the memorial service, some families headed to Okawa Elementary School, where they lost their children.
At the school, Takao Karino, 42, and his wife, Akemi, 42, were informed that their 12-year-old daughter's body had been found under rubble, and they rushed to see their daughter.
"It would be strange to say that I'm glad to hear that, but she was finally found on the 49th day since the disaster. She may have been waiting for us," Karino said with tears.
"I could easily recognize that it was her when I saw her. We can finally take her home," Akemi said as she wiped away her tears with her handkerchief.
Throughout Thursday, countless services were held at temples and graveyards in the region battered by the tsunami, including Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures.
At a temple in the town of Watari, Miyagi Prefecture, about 200 grieving family members and others gathered to pray for those who have been buried on the premises on a temporary basis.
"It still feels as if this isn't real," said Ayako Suzuki, 56, who lost her mother in the tsunami. "I want to hold a funeral service for her soon" so she can be cremated, she added.
The tally of dead from the magnitude 9.0 quake and tsunami stood at 14,564 in 12 prefectures as of Thursday morning, with 11,356 missing in six prefectures, according to the National Police Agency.

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