More than 300 day care centers were damaged by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami–including at least 28 that were destroyed or swept away–but none of the children or staffers there died in the disaster, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned. Quick thinking by caregivers–some of whom even piggybacked children to higher ground–and regular evacuation drills are being credited with saving the lives of hundreds of children in Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima prefectures. According to reports submitted to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, 243 day care centers in Miyagi Prefecture were damaged–including 16 destroyed–in the disaster; 34 (including 12 destroyed) in Iwate Prefecture; and 38 in Fukushima Prefecture.
It was not clear how many of the centers in Fukushima Prefecture had been severely damaged by the quake and tsunami. Child care centers are obliged to conduct evacuation drills every month. According to the child-raising support division at the Miyagi prefectural government, some child care centers changed their regular evacuation routes because the shaking of the magnitude-9 earthquake was so extraordinary–decisions that saved children’s lives.
“Holding regular drills and staffers’ sound judgments after the quake saved many children’s lives,” an official at the division said. “We’re thankful the caregivers calmly handled the situation.” However, not all the children who attended day care survived the disaster. Some who had been taken home by their parents after the earthquake died in tsunami, and some children who were at home due to illness also did not escape. In Miyagi Prefecture, 21 such children have been confirmed dead.