updated 11 Oct 2011, 06:13
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Tue, Oct 11, 2011
The Yomiuri Shimbun/ANN
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Parents sue kindergarten over children's deaths in tsunami

SENDAI - On March 11, a school bus belonging to Hiyori Kindergarten, a private school in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, was overwhelmed by the tsunami. A total of five children aged 4 to 6 years old died.

The parents of four of the children filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the kindergarten, insisting the nursery school responded inappropriately to the earthquake, resulting in the deaths of their children.

The plaintiffs argued the kindergarten was to blame for running a school bus along a coast to transport children home despite the tsunami advisory issued after the disaster to stay away from coastal areas.

The lawsuit, filed with the Sendai District Court, demanded Hasegawa Gakuin, a school corporation that manages the kindergarten, and the director of the kindergarten at the time pay about 270 million yen in compensation to the plaintiffs.

It was the first case in which family members who lost children in the disaster sought to hold schools charged with caring for the children responsible for their deaths.

According to a complaint, after the earthquake hit at 2:46 p.m., the bus, carrying 12 children, made its way up a hill toward residential areas near Ishinomaki Bay.

On the way, some children were returned to their parents. At 3:45 p.m., the tsunami reached the bus. The vehicle overturned, with five children remaining inside. Soon after, the bus caught fire and the vehicle was burned. On March 14, after their bodies were discovered, the five children were confirmed dead.

According to the complaint, the kindergarten authorized returning the children to their homes by bus along a coastal route, despite tsunami advisories to evacuate children to higher ground.

When asked to comment on the lawsuit, a lawyer representing Hiyori Kindergarten said, "We're looking into the complaint."

The kindergarten director at the time of the disaster said, "I can't comment on the lawsuit at this time."

Other cases are emerging in which administrators are being held responsible by bereaved family members and others for deaths resulting from the March quake and tsunami.

In Yamamotocho, Miyagi Prefecture, family members of 25 students of Joban Yamamoto driving school plan to file a lawsuit against the school in September in Sendai District Court, seeking damages of about 1.7 billion yen.

After the earthquake hit, many of the students tried to return home using the school bus and other vehicles.

In Okawa Primary School in Ishinomaki, 74 children, or about 70 per cent of the school's students, died or are still missing as a result of the tsunami. After the earthquake struck, the children were instructed to gather in the schoolyard where they waited 40 minutes before being evacuated. Parents believe so many children died because they had to wait in the schoolyard for a long time.

In Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, many residents who evacuated to a disaster prevention center in Unosumai district also died from the tsunami. The Kamaishi city government held an explanatory meeting Tuesday night for bereaved family members.

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