Surviving the Tsunami

Gripping personal stories from Japan offer lessons on how to act in the face of a life-threatening disaster. Airing June 25, 2014 at 9 pm on PBS Aired June 25, 2014 on PBS

  • Originally aired 09.28.11

Program Description

(Program not available for streaming.) The earthquake that hit the northern coast of Japan on March 11, 2011 was recorded at magnitude 9.0—the worst ever recorded in Japan. It generated an unprecedented tsunami, obliterating coastal villages and towns in a matter of minutes. In some areas, the tsunami climbed over 100 feet in height and traveled miles inland. Amazingly, amateur and professional photographers captured it all on video, including remarkable tales of human survival, as ordinary citizens became heroes in a drama they never could have imagined.

 As the waves rush in, a daughter struggles to help her elderly mother ascend their rooftop to safety; a man climbs onto an overpass just as the wave overtakes his car. These never-before-seen stories are captured in video and retold after-the-fact by the survivors who reveal what they were thinking as they made their life-saving decisions. Their stories provide lessons on how we should all act in the face of life-threatening disasters. This unique program was originally produced and broadcast in Japan by NHK, Japan's public broadcaster.   



Surviving the Tsunami

PBS Airdate: September 28, 2011

TSUNAMI SURVIVOR: Here comes the first wave.

TSUNAMI SURVIVOR: Be careful, the glass might break.

NARRATOR: Off the coast of northern Japan, a Coast Guard ship comes face to face with a 30-foot wall of water.

TSUNAMI SURVIVOR: Secure yourself! Grab something.


TSUNAMI SURVIVOR: The second wave is coming.

NARRATOR: It is the first sign of a deadly tsunami that will soon engulf Japan's northern coastline. TSUNAMI SURVIVOR: Here it comes!

NARRATOR: More than 20,000 people will die, Entire towns vanish. As the giant waves reach shore and sweep inland, N.H.K., Japan's national broadcaster, is on the scene, capturing events as they unfold, from pictures of unimaginable destruction to miraculous survival. Now, the people seen in these images are telling their own story

At the far reaches of the tsunami, a policeman…

SURVIVOR: When I saw the tsunami here, I thought, "This is the end. I'm going to die."

N.H.K. CAMERA OPERATOR: The water is overflowing and flooding the town!

NARRATOR: A family stranded on the roof of a building…

YASUYUKI TSUDA (Tsunami Survivor): There was plenty of time, but it hit before we knew it.

NARRATOR: A man, swept away in his car, lands on top of a bridge. There is no "safe place."

In Japan, scientists are intently studying this tsunami to help people better protect themselves in the future. They, too, want to understand how these victims managed to survive, when so many others didn't. What are the lessons we can learn about Surviving the Tsunami? Right now, on NOVA.

March 11, 2:46 p.m.: the eastern half of Japan was hit by a fierce tremor.

EMERGENCY BROADCAST: A tsunami warning has been issued for the coast of Iwate Prefecture.

NARRATOR: The port city of Kamaishi, in northern Tohoku, just after the earthquake hit: the city's emergency broadcast system announced the tsunami warning. An N.H.K. reporter began filming on the streets of Kamaishi. Residents began to head for the designated evacuation site, a hillside overlooking the city.

Evacuees gathered on the high ground. Fifteen minutes after the earthquake hit, this video was taken from the hillside. Many people still remained in the city at this time.

One of those remaining was Saeko Kudo. At the time of the earthquake, she was at home with her mother, Toyoko. The Kudos' home is in the harbor district of Kamaishi. The harbor can be seen, just 80 meters away from the house.

The high ground where many people took refuge is a 10-minute walk. Even closer was an 8-story building that was a designated evacuation site.

This is the Kudos' home, facing the harbor.

At the time of the earthquake, the mother, Toyoko, had just returned from a dialysis treatment at the hospital.

TOYOKO KUDO (Tsunami Survivor): Saeko said we had to get out quickly, but I said, "It will be all right." The tremor of the quake was strong, but, in past earthquakes, we often evacuated, and the tsunami never came. So I thought, "We'll be okay. There's no need to evacuate."

NARRATOR: Saeko thought they should evacuate immediately, but she also felt it would be hard for her elderly mother to do so. This was because a series of strong aftershocks was shaking the city.

SAEKO KUDO (Tsunami Survivor): The shelter is normally a five-minute walk, but the tremors from the quake were so strong, it was difficult to walk. Lots of things were falling, so there was a danger of being hit if you were walking outside. It was dangerous to stay at home, but it still seemed to be safer. Everything was collapsing outside.

NARRATOR: The Kudos did not seek shelter immediately. They would soon experience a terrifying ordeal.

About a half hour after the earthquake, the camera on the hillside captured the first signs of the tsunami.

EVACUEES/CAMERA OPERATOR: Look at the harbor, the customs office. You can see the pillars of the pier.

Does that mean the water is very low?

Yes. It's being pulled out to sea.

NARRATOR: At that moment, Saeko Kudo also noticed the unusual condition of the nearby harbor.

SAEKO KUDO: The water level fell drastically. There was water in the harbor, but when I looked again, it was gone. I could see the black mud on the ocean floor. I realized this was no ordinary tsunami. It was definitely going to come over the wall. I realized this, so I shouted, "Let's get out of here!"

EVACUEES/CAMERA OPERATOR: The tsunami! The tsunami is coming!

CAMERA OPERATOR: The time is 3:14. A large tsunami has appeared outside of the Kamaishi harbor.

NARRATOR: At this time, the water level was rising steadily, and water had begun to overflow the seawalls in the harbor. But there were still many people in the city who were unaware of this.

MACHIKO KIKUCHI (Tsunami Survivor): Our house was here. It extended all the way back there.

NARRATOR: Machiko Kikuchi felt the tremor of the earthquake while at work. She quickly drove home to check if her house had been damaged. The house was 130 meters from the harbor, but she could not see the changes taking place there.

Also, because she was in her car, she did not hear the emergency announcement of the tsunami warning.

MACHIKO KIKUCHI: I had no idea the tsunami was coming. I don't remember hearing the announcement. But everyone was evacuating, so they must have heard.

I was driving in my car, so I couldn't hear.

NARRATOR: When Machiko got out of her car, in front of her house, a passerby shouted a warning.

MACHIKO KIKUCHI: They came by on a bike, shouting, "A tsunami is coming. Run!"

That's how I found out. I realized I needed to get away.

NARRATOR: Now aware of the danger, Machiko hurriedly climbed back in her car.

SAEKO KUDO had belatedly decided to take her mother to a shelter. When they came out on the street, they saw water flooding in from the harbor.

SAEKO KUDO: At first, it just came over the wall, just as high as the wall. It wasn't a giant wave that hit all at once; it was a gradual swell that came over the wall.

The moment I saw it come over, there was water at my feet. So we ran up to the second floor of the house.

NARRATOR: Around this time, another, taller wave was filmed as it approached the harbor. It was flowing over the breakwater that was built to protect the town.

CAMERA OPERATOR: This is incredible. The water is overflowing the harbor wall. Water is flooding the town.

NARRATOR: The tsunami was now surging into town with increased force. The video recorded images of the Kudos' house being flooded.

SAEKO KUDO: What I saw at that moment…there was a window here, and I could see the water right at the level of the window. It was just a matter of time before the window broke, so I shouted, "Hurry!" And we went up on the roof.

CAMERA OPERATOR: It's unbelievable. Boats are being pushed into town.

NARRATOR: The tsunami passed by the Kudos' house and spread further into town.

CAMERA OPERATOR: It's now 3:21. This is the scene at Kamaishi harbor. Water is overflowing the seawalls and flooding the town.

NARRATOR: The fierce wave moved quickly, leaving people in the town no time to escape.

MACHIKO KIKUCHI: I got in my car, and the moment I shut the door, the tsunami hit. I couldn't move. I had no idea what to do, and the water kept coming. I was quickly swept in that direction.

CAMERA OPERATOR: This is incredible. The city of Kamaishi is covered with a cloud of dust.

MACHIKO KIKUCHI: I thought, "This is the end," when I was swept away in my car. The tsunami was so powerful.

NARRATOR: Machiko's car was thrust against a neighboring building, where it stopped and began to sink.

MACHIKO KIKUCHI: Water was pouring in. I thought, "There's no way out. I have to find a way out." I looked up and the window had broken. Without thinking, I scrambled, fighting for my life. I just scrambled as high as I could get.

NARRATOR: After seeing the tsunami approach their second floor, the Kudos had hurried up to their roof. It is an open space that is partially covered by roof tiles. The roof is seven meters high, but the water would soon flood it with intense force.

SAEKO KUDO OR TOYOKO KUDO: The tsunami, it was moving so quickly.

SAEKO KUDO: In an instant—I don't remember clearly—it kept coming higher and higher, so I grabbed on here, and my mother grabbed on here.

TOYOKO KUDO: I grabbed here and here.

SAEKO KUDO OR TOYOKO KUDO: But the water kept coming, and we were entirely under water.

CAMERA OPERATOR: You were hanging on under water?

SAEKO KUDO OR TOYOKO KUDO: I was entirely under water, and I could see the water level here.

NARRATOR: This is video footage of the Kudos' house at that moment. Saeko and her mother are under the water and cannot be seen.


NARRATOR: A human form becomes visible on the tile roof of the Kudos' house.

SAEKO KUDO: I tried to climb up on my own, but couldn't. Then I realized that if I let myself go, I might float. The jacket I was wearing was like what I'm wearing today. It was somewhat buoyant, instead of causing me to sink. So when I let myself go, I floated on the wave. So I was able to get up higher.

NARRATOR: Boosted by the water onto the roof, Saeko's figure can be seen. This was the moment she scrambled up onto the tile roof. Her mother was still under water.

SAEKO KUDO: I saw that my mother was under the surface of the water, so I grabbed her by the collar and pulled. But her head was heavy, and it sank. I pulled her up with both hands.

When I pulled her up, she wasn't breathing. She had swallowed a lot of water. I brought her over here and raised her head here. I slapped her face hard, and she spit up the water. I lay her on her side, so she wouldn't choke on her vomit.

She started breathing again, and I kept talking to her. Then, from the road on the hillside, people started to yell encouragement, "Hold on!"

NARRATOR: Mother and daughter were now up on the tile roof. They had escaped being swept away by the tsunami and survived with their lives.

Around this time, a woman could be seen on the roof of a building. It was Machiko, who had been swept away in her car. She had escaped from her car through a broken window. She scrambled up the pile of debris around her car, grabbed onto the window of a building, and managed to escape the tsunami.

Forty minutes after the earthquake occurred:…

CAMERA OPERATOR: Wow. The water's receding.

NARRATOR: The videos show how the tsunami, taking a new form, continued to attack the city.

CAMERA OPERATOR: It's withdrawing with great force.

NARRATOR: A ferocious backwash had begun to sweep the city. Around this time, a video captured the image of a car that had been lifted up onto a bridge. The driver of the car was Yoshiki Hasegawa.

YOSHIKI HASEGAWA (Tsunami Survivor): I got snagged right about there.

NARRATOR: He had been swept away by the tsunami, but came to rest on the bridge, by chance, and survived.

He witnessed the ferocity of the backwash from that vantage point.

Now, houses and cars that had been swallowed by the tsunami were being pulled out to sea all at once.

YOSHIKI HASEGAWA: There was a flood of ruined houses and lumber, just like after a heavy rain, like a flood of mud and rock, it came with a roar. The backwash was very powerful.

NARRATOR: The backwash was so powerful that it swept a large cargo ship along in its path.

PEOPLE AROUND CAMERA: There's someone on that car!

Someone's on top of that car!

NARRATOR: At this time, the backwash was sweeping a man in his car down the river and out to sea. It was Tsuyoshi Sawada. He had given up hope of surviving the tremendous rush of the water.

TSUYOSHI SAWADA (Tsunami Survivor): I thought they'd never find my corpse if I sank inside my car. If I was going to drown anyway, they might find my corpse if I got out. So I stood on top of my car, surrounded by water. Houses and cars were floating by, and I thought I had no chance at all.

NARRATOR: Tsuyoshi was swept helplessly along, unable to do anything to rescue himself. At that moment, the bridge came into view. He could see a man on the bridge, and he started yelling for help.

YOSHIKI HASEGAWA was the man on the bridge.

YOSHIKI HASEGAWA: I heard a voice calling, "Help!" I looked, and I saw a man standing on the roof of his car. I shouted, "Jump!"

TSUYOSHI SAWADA: Jumping on the bridge was my only chance. If I made it, I'm saved; if I failed, I'm gone.

CAMERA OPERATOR: There was nothing beyond the bridge?

TSUYOSHI SAWADA: No, nothing but the sea.

NARRATOR: This video captured the moment that Tsuyoshi was rescued. He is wearing a light blue jacket. Yoshiki is pulling him to safety.

PEOPLE AROUND CAMERA: He's okay! He's safe!

Get out of there!

NARRATOR: The two men were saved by a series of chance occurrences, but the powerful backwash of the tsunami dragged many people out to sea.

YOSHIKI HASEGAWA: After I was safe, I saw houses float by with people in them. There was nothing I could do to help them.

NARRATOR: These images show the massive tsunami as it came ashore in the northern part of Tohoku.

PEOPLE AROUND CAMERA: That'll destroy everything.

NARRATOR: The sheer wall of the wave sent up ferocious plumes of water as it crashed into the shoreline. The height and destructive power of the tsunami devastated the towns along the shore.

How was such a massive tsunami created in the first place? This is a G.P.S. buoy that is positioned 20 kilometers off the shore of Kamaishi. It recorded, in detail, the rise in sea levels caused by the tsunami.

Changes in the sea level began immediately after the earthquake occurred. The sea level began to rise gradually. Twenty minutes after the earthquake, the sea level had risen two meters. Just after that, a startling phenomenon occurred. The sea level rose dramatically and quickly reached seven meters. The tsunami took the shape of a sheer, steep wall. This rapid transformation had never been observed before.

Up until now, it was believed that tsunami were caused by the following mechanism: off the coast of Tohoku, the oceanic tectonic plate thrusts under the continental plate; stress builds up in the continental plate, until it snaps, lifting the seawater above to form a tsunami. But this would form a gently rising tsunami, not one that suddenly rose in height.

Why was it that the tsunami took the shape of a sheer wall?

YOSHIHIRO ITO of Tohoku University has offered a new hypothesis.

CREW: Lower it!

NARRATOR: Ito has used underwater research vessels and other means to survey the ocean floor along the coast of the northern Tohoku region.

This footage was taken three years ago. It shows how sediment has accumulated in the area where the oceanic plate is submerging. Ito believes this stratum of hardened mud might have been the reason the tsunami became so massive.

His surveys have confirmed that there is a hard layer of sediment several kilometers thick above the plates. The internal structure of that stratum has also been clarified. Many faults, called splay faults, extending from the plate borders, have been found within the stratum of sediment.

Ito postulates that this mechanism created the massive tsunami: the continental plate snaps, creating a two-meter high tsunami; the energy of the plate movement is transmitted to the stratum of sediment, causing a large vertical movement in the splay faults; as a result, the sea level above the stratum rises, and a seven-meter high sheer wall of a tsunami is created.

YOSHIHIRO ITO (Tohoku University): If we hypothesize that a single earthquake shifted the faults several meters, then it's possible that this would create a large tsunami.

NARRATOR: The tsunami that was measured at seven meters offshore, more than doubled in height as approached the shoreline. The massive tsunami was more than 20 meters high when it reached the northern shores of the Tohoku region.

The increased height of the tsunami resulted in destruction that far surpassed expectations. Reinforced concrete-and-steel-frame buildings that were considered likely to survive a tsunami were destroyed, one after another.

Why was the tsunami so destructive? Clues were discovered in video footage of the tsunami. This is the city of Kuji, on the coast north of Kamaishi. A sewage processing plant, the white building, was struck directly by the tsunami.

TARO ARIKAWA of the Port and Airport Research Institute came to Kuji to survey this building. A 15-centimeter thick, reinforced concrete wall was destroyed by the tsunami. It had vanished.

TARO ARIKAWA (Port and Airport Research Institute): It destroyed a concrete wall, 15 centimeters thick, so it must have been a very strong impact.

NARRATOR: Arikawa's attention was drawn to the white portion at the tip of the tsunami just before it hit the building. This is a phenomenon called a "supercritical flow," which occurs when a tsunami crashes. It only occurs when waves are very high, and it has rarely been seen in Japan.

How much destructive power does a supercritical flow have? An experiment was conducted in a large apparatus called a "wave flume." This is a simulation of a 2.5-meter high tsunami.

The front of the tsunami crashes and becomes a supercritical flow as it nears shallow water along a coast. Seawater falls from a high position and the speed of the flow triples in an instant. The destructive force of the tip of the wave increases in proportion to the height of the incoming wave. The force of a 2.5-meter tsunami was measured at 14 tons per square meter. This is strong enough to destroy a concrete wall.

TARO ARIKAWA: We need to study the force created by supercritical flows. We have to use that data to develop future countermeasures.

NARRATOR: The massive tsunami hit the northern part of Tohoku with ferocious strength. In the flatlands, in the southern part of Tohoku, it caused a very different kind of devastation.

In this region of relatively flat plains, a tsunami was not predicted to spread more than a kilometer from the sea. However, on March 11, the tsunami reached more than five kilometers inland and flooded a wide expanse of terrain.

This video shows the Sendai Plain, about an hour after the earthquake occurred. The black water appears to crawl across the land. It proceeds without cease, swallowing up houses and fields in its path.

In this area, the tsunami reached a full six kilometers inland from the sea.

Why did the tsunami reach such a distance inland?

Ikuo Abe of Fuji Tokoha University has performed simulations of the tsunami that attacked the Sendai Plain, using measurements that were made throughout the area.

During the earthquake, the hypocenter region, where the plate snapped, covered an area 450 kilometers north-south and 200 kilometers east-west. The earthquake caused upheavals in the sea level across a wide stretch of the ocean. Offshore of the northern part of the Tohoku region, the earthquake created the towering, sheer tsunami that struck Kamaishi. To the south, off the coast of Miyagi Prefecture and the southern Tohoku region, the sea level swelled into several massive, wide tsunami.

The sheer tsunami and the wide tsunami overlapped in Sendai Bay, and the reinforced, powerful wave headed for the plain. About one hour after the earthquake occurred, the tsunami reached the Sendai Plain. It pressed inland for about 20 minutes, with massive amounts of seawater flooding deep into the plain.

The town of Yuriage in Miyagi Prefecture was flooded by the tsunami, deep inland. Residents cannot see the ocean from the town, and many were not aware of the tsunami until it appeared before their eyes.

NAOKI ISHIKAWA (Tsunami Survivor): This was my home. The entrance was over here.

NARRATOR: This residential district is one kilometer from the sea.

NAOKI ISHIKAWA, a university student, came outside his house with his family after the earthquake.

NAOKI ISHIKAWA: It was hard to stand during the quake, so we were holding on desperately. When it was over, we came outside to clean up.

CAMERA OPERATOR: You didn't think a tsunami would come?

NAOKI ISHIKAWA: No, it didn't occur to me. I never imagined it. If a tsunami came, it would be along the sea, at the shore. I thought it would just cause some waves in the harbor.

NARRATOR: The earthquake had knocked out electricity in the area. The family could not watch the news on television, and they did not hear the emergency announcements outside. Naoki was alerted to the tsunami by the shouts of his father.

NAOKI ISHIKAWA: The wave of black water flowed between the houses. My father saw it and yelled, "Tsunami! Get upstairs!"

NARRATOR: Naoki immediately ran up to the second floor of his house.

NAOKI ISHIKAWA: As soon as I got upstairs, the tsunami hit. I couldn't believe it when the waves came inside the house. The water came flooding in, up to my knees. I really couldn't believe it.

NARRATOR: Naoki's house was swept away by the tsunami, but he managed to cling to the roof and, thus, survived. But his parents and sister, who were also at home, perished.

There is no high ground in Yuriage. There were four designated evacuation sites, including the elementary school. At the sites, a considerable distance from the ocean, there was confusion about the tsunami warning.

This is the Yuriage Elementary School, the evacuation site furthest from the shore. After the tsunami warning was issued, the children took shelter on the third floor of the school building.

Akiko Tanno came to the school to pick up her daughter, who is in first grade. She then took shelter at the school.

AKIKO TANNO (Tsunami Survivor): We were told to go up to the third floor.

NARRATOR: Parents began to come, one after another, about 10 minutes after the quake. Electricity was out at the school, and the tsunami warning announcement could not be heard. The only sources of information for the assembled parents were the radio and TV reception on their cell phones.

TV ANNOUNCEMENT: A tsunami will reach Miyagi Prefecture at 3:00.

NARRATOR: Just after the earthquake hit, the Japan Meteorological Agency announced that the tsunami would reach Miyagi Prefecture at three p.m. However, 30 minutes after the predicted time of the tsunami's arrival, there was no sign of a tsunami in the vicinity of the school. Teachers and parents began to feel a sense of relief that the tsunami was not going to hit the area of the school.

AKIKO TANNO: People in the corridor were saying, "It looks like the tsunami won't come," and things like that. It was past the predicted time, so people said it wouldn't come. The warning had not been lifted, but the predicted time of arrival had passed, so the kids were moved. They used the stairs back there to go down to the gym.

NARRATOR: Children and their parents began to go down from the third floor shelter to the gymnasium.

In fact, the tsunami reached shore in the northern end of Miyagi Prefecture at the predicted time, around three p.m. It then headed across Sendai Bay, toward Yuriage. The tsunami reached the shore just about the time the children had finished moving down into the gym.

This bridge is about 800 meters from the school. A policeman was seen standing on the bridge. He was responding to a traffic accident that occurred because of the earthquake, when he was surrounded by the tsunami.

ENDO (Tsunami Survivor): There were houses standing, so I couldn't see the first wave. I began to hear rumbling and wood snapping. Then a black wave came, pushing houses before it. When I saw the tsunami here, I thought, "This is the end. I'm going to die."

NARRATOR: This photograph was taken by Hideo Moriya, near the school, around that time. The tsunami is not visible, but there is smoke rising from the residential district.

HIDEO MORIYA (Tsunami Survivor): I thought the smoke was from a fire. The smoke was coming closer and closer. I thought the fire was spreading.

NARRATOR: After a short while, the tsunami appeared, carrying tons of debris in its path. Hideo quickly ran to take shelter in a building.

More than an hour after the earthquake, the tsunami approached the elementary school. At that moment, one of the parents realized the tsunami was coming. Michiru Kusaka happened to be on the second floor of the school, and she sighted the tsunami.

MICHIRU KUSAKA (Tsunami Survivor): I wasn't sure what to do at first, but I knew the kids were in the gym, and I had to tell them. We needed to get them upstairs in the school building, so I ran to get them.

NARRATOR: There were more than 100 children and parents in the gymnasium.

MICHIRU KUSAKA: I came and began shouting.

CAMERA OPERATOR: What did you say?

MICHIRU KUSAKA: "The tsunami is coming! Run! Get out of here!

NARRATOR: Hearing Michiru's warning, parents grabbed their children's hands and rushed for the exit.

AKIKO TANNO: The parents were saying, "What?" "Has it really come?" Everyone was so surprised, we all panicked. No one listened to instructions. The only thing people thought about was getting higher up.

PERSON NEAR CAMERA: It's carrying the cars away!

NARRATOR: This video was taken from the school building. The tsunami flooded the spacious schoolyard in an instant.

MICHIRU KUSAKA: The tsunami was very close. I don't remember how close, but I remember thinking, "We have to get away from the water."

As soon as we got to the third floor, the water entered the schoolyard.

NARRATOR: Water flooded from the schoolyard into the gymnasium just after the children had all fled to safety. The children and parents had climbed to the roof of the school building. Their lives had been endangered by conflicting information about the tsunami warning.

All of the designated evacuation sites in Yuriage were flooded by the tsunami. Having lost their refuge, people headed for an expressway three kilometers from the ocean. The expressway is eight meters higher than the surrounding area, and is the only high ground in the district.

KAZUHIRO Numata was one of those who headed for the highway. He loaded his daughter and his elderly mother in his car. He could see the tsunami in his rearview mirror.

KAZUHIRO NUMATA (Tsunami Survivor): My mother said, "It's too late." But I was desperate to find a way to escape.

NARRATOR: However, the expressway was being inspected for earthquake damage, and the entrance was closed, causing a traffic jam.

Some people got out of their cars and scrambled up the hillside. Kazuhiro finally made it to the vicinity of the highway. The tsunami was now just behind his car. He made a quick decision and crashed through the tollbooth gate and up onto the highway.

KAZUHIRO NUMATA: As soon as I went up the ramp, the cars behind me were swept away.

The water just kept coming. Getting up on the expressway, that was the difference between life and death. It's just hard to put into words. Surviving those conditions was just a matter of chance.

NARRATOR: The massive tsunami struck the northern coast of Tohoku and the southern region in different but equally devastating ways. The number of the dead and missing totaled more than 24,000.

Those who survived that harrowing day shared their thoughts with us.

YOSHIKI HASEGAWA, who was in his car when it was swept away by the tsunami: coming to rest on a bridge, he managed to survive, but saw many people and houses swept out to sea.

YOSHIKI HASEGAWA: When danger comes, you just have to escape, just escape to high ground. Many, many people died. There is no "safe place."

NARRATOR: Akiko Tanno came to the elementary school to pick up her daughter. She now regrets leaving a safe spot despite the fact that a tsunami warning was in effect.

AKIKO TANNO: It was careless to think that it was far away. You shouldn't move until the tsunami warning is lifted. I realized that.

NARRATOR: Saeko Kudo, who was swallowed by the tsunami along with her mother: Saeko knows people have many reasons for failing to take shelter, thinking, "This city is prepared for a tsunami," or "My parents are elderly."

These thoughts must be replaced with a strong determination to escape. Saeko agreed to be interviewed because she wanted to convey this message.

SAEKO KUDO: Nature can overpower people and technology. We shouldn't think "Everything will be okay." We have to be prepared to evacuate. My hope is that people will keep this in mind.

NARRATOR: How can we build upon the experiences of people who survived that day, so that those sacrifices will not be repeated?

In order to protect precious lives, it is incumbent on each of us to answer this question.

Broadcast Credits

Broadcast Credits: Surviving the Tsunami

PBS Airdate: September 28, 2011

Fumihiko Imamura, Tohoku University
Takashi Furumura, University of Tokyo
Hideo Inoue
Tetsuro Ishiyama
Yoshinori Matsuda
Kenji Yamaichi
Toshiyuki Kanemaru
Yasuhiro Hara
Hwang Dong Ho
Hidenori Shutou
Masato Kanezawa
Kentaro Sugisawa
Shinichiro Ogata
Mitsugu Shiota
Takanori Okado
Satoshi Aoyama
Seicho Nojima
Yoichi Oikawa
Yoshikatsu Date
Makiko Sugiura
Aki Tanaka
Rie Takeshima
Daisuke Tanaka
Akihiko Yanomori
Hiroyoshi Sugiura
Takayuki Agui
Ken Takahashi
Masayuki Tani
Kenichi Nakamaru
Shu Morino
Tetsuji Miyagawa
Nozomu Ishida
Toshiyuki Takano
Toshiyuki Ono
Takeshi Shibasaki
Haruna Kimura
Hirotsugu Daikai
Yuzo Wada
Kyoko Matsubara
Yoshihiro Kinoshita
Taro Yamanouchi
Yasuhiko Egawa
Kuniaki Tsuruya
Kazuto Tsujimura
Shuji Hosoda
Tomoyuki Shirakawa
Toshihiko Sato
Kenji Sugai

Rob Tinworth
Jay O. Sanders
yU + co.
Walter Werzowa
John Luker
Musikvergnuegen, Inc.
Ray Loring
Rob Morsberger
Spencer Gentry
The Caption Center
Eileen Campion
Victoria Louie
Karen Laverty
Kate Becker
Kristen Sommerhalter
Linda Callahan
Sarah Erlandson
Scott Kardel, Esq.
Janice Flood

Susan Rosen
Patrick Carey
Rebecca Nieto
Nathan Gunner
Linzy Emery
Pamela Rosenstein
David Condon
Stephen Sweigart
Jonathan Loewald
Lisa Mirowitz
Laurie Cahalane
Evan Hadingham
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Melanie Wallace
Howard Swartz
Solo static page
Alan Ritsko
Paula S. Apsell

An NHK Production for NOVA/WGBH


Additional Material © 2011 WGBH Educational Foundation

All rights reserved


(floating residence)
Courtesy Dylan McCord, U.S. Navy

Preview | 00:30

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