Sendai: Father of one of the young victims of March 2011 tsunami in Japan, who were in an elementary school at the time of disaster, told a court today that the school was to be blamed for failing to evacuate the children to higher ground.

“The delay in judgement caused irreparable (damage). It is simply a man-made disaster,” Yoshiaki Suzuki, who lost his 12-year-old son Kento, said at the Sendai District Court, where he and other family members of the pupils at Okawa Elementary School had filed a damages suit in March.

“My heart aches with pity when I think of how the children just listened to what their teachers told them,” Suzuki, 52, said.

His 9-year-old daughter Hana went missing in the tsunami and is presumed dead.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs blame the Ishinomaki city-run school, located around 4 kilometres from the coast, for failing to meet its obligations to ensure the pupils’ safety.

The families have argued that the school kept the children in the schoolyard for around 45 minutes until the tsunami arrived and did not evacuate or take them to a hill behind the school.

They said the danger could have been anticipated based on the tsunami warning and other relevant information.

They have demanded that the municipal and refectural governments jointly pay 100 million yen in compensation for each child killed.

At the elementary school, 74 of the 108 pupils died or remain unaccounted for, and 10 of the 13 teachers and school officials died in the earthquake and tsunami disaster on March 11, 2011.

City officials said the tsunami could not have been predicted as the elementary school was not in an area designated by a hazard map as likely to flood in the event of a tsunami.

The city also defended the school staff’s actions, saying they were not negligent in their duties.

It believes the children were gathered in the schoolyard to calm them, and that there was no route at the time to safely evacuate the children.

The prefectural government also called for the suit to be rejected.

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