Japanese Mapping Project Records Last Movements of 2011 Tsunami Victims

Screenshot of video walkthrough of interactive map of Tohoku Tsunami. Image taken from YouTube.

Screenshot of video walkthrough of interactive map of Tohoku Tsunami. Image taken from YouTube.

An innovative mapping project tracks the last moments of the victims of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Called “May We Never Forget: Recording the Last Movements of Tsunami Disaster Victims” ( 忘れない: 震災犠牲者の行動記録), the project examines the last moments of 1,326 people, based on interviews with their surviving family members.

On Friday, March 11, 2011 at 2:46PM local time, a massive earthquake occurred on the sea floor northwest of Japan. The earthquake triggered a massive tsunami that destroyed many coastal towns and cities along more than 500 kilometers of Japan's coastline.

The March 11 tsunami killed almost 16,000 people, and another 2,562 people are still missing and presumed dead.

Iwate Prefecture, with its coastline of narrow fjords that could channel the energy of the tsunami, experienced particularly high waves; some waves were reported to be as tall as a ten-story building. 5,797 residents of Iwate were killed or are missing as a result of the tsunami.

“May We Never Forget: Recording the Last Movements of Tsunami Disaster Victims” shows the sheer power and horror of the tsunami.

The May We Never Forget project ( 忘れない: 震災犠牲者の行動記録) traces the last steps of these people before the tsunami struck where they lived. The online mapping project provides insights into how people react to natural disasters, and promises to help improve how governments can respond and help save lives.

A page with several video demonstrations of the map in different cities is available here.

The full online mapping application is available here. Using the left-hand menu, users can select individual towns and cities along the Iwate coastline.

Blue dots represent male victims, red dots represent females. Animations show the paths the people took ten minutes following the tsunami. Some people fled on foot, while others walked, which explains why some people were able to travel a longer distance in ten minutes. Using the scrollbar at the bottom of the screen, it's possible to scroll back and forth in time.

Screenshot 2016-03-18 at 5.45.42 PM - Display 2

Screenshot from May We Never Forget ( 忘れない: 震災犠牲者の行動記録) online mapping tool.

Click on a dot and information about that person, including their name and their age, and how they spent their last ten minutes alive is presented on a popup on the right side of the screen.

Every dot on the map represents someone who died, and information about their whereabouts, their route and what they did was determined after interviewing surviving family members, who likely would have spoken to them on a cellular phone as the tsunami approached.

The map also pulls in information from Google Street View so that the location of the tsunami victims can be seen.

There are several video walkthroughs of different towns along the coast.

The project is the result of a collaboration by Tokyo Metropolitan University and its resident design studio WTNV, and Tohoku media outlet Iwate Nippo.

Some of the insights from the mapping project include the fact that, even when tsunami warnings had sounded, many of the victims immediately went to their designated community emergency shelter (避難所, hinanjo) rather than seeking high ground, where they would have likely had a better chance of survival.



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