'For us, the seawall was a source of pride, an asset, something that we believed in,' said Eiko Araya, 58, the principal of Taro No. 3 Elementary School. Like several other tsunami survivors, Ms. Araya was walking atop the inner wall late Wednesday afternoon, peering down at the ruins of Taro. 'We felt protected, I believe. That’s why our feeling of loss is even greater now.' Ko Sasaki for The New York Times

By NORIMITSU ONISHI
31 March 2011

TARO, Japan — So unshakable was this town’s faith in its sea wall and its ability to save residents from any tsunami that some rushed toward it after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of northeast Japan on the afternoon of March 11.

After all, the sea wall was one of Japan’s tallest and longest, called the nation’s “Great Wall of China” by the government and news media. Its inner wall was reinforced by an outer one, and they stretched 1.5 miles across the bay here. The surface was so wide that high school students jogged on it, townspeople strolled on it, and some rode their bicycles on it. A local junior high school song even urged students: “Look up at our sea wall. The challenges of tsunamis are endless.”

But within a few minutes on March 11, the tsunami’s waves tore through the outer wall before easily surging over the 34-foot-high inner one, sweeping away those who had climbed on its top, and quickly taking away most of the town of Taro.

“For us, the sea wall was a source of pride, an asset, something that we believed in,” said Eiko Araya, 58, the principal of Taro No. 3 Elementary School. Like several other survivors, Ms. Araya was walking atop the inner wall late Wednesday afternoon, peering down at the ruins of Taro. “We felt protected, I believe. That’s why our feeling of loss is even greater now.” …

Osamu Shimozawa, a city official in Kamaishi, said a decision not to rebuild would be tantamount to “abandoning rural Japan.”

“We have to provide a permanent feeling of security so that people will live here,” Mr. Shimozawa said. …

In Japan, Seawall Offered a False Sense of Security

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