Comments about technological history, system fractures, and human resilience from James R. Chiles, the author of Inviting Disaster: Lessons from the Edge of Technology (HarperBusiness 2001; paperback 2002) and The God Machine: From Boomerangs to Black Hawks, the Story of the Helicopter (Random House, 2007, paperback 2008)

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Mayor of Fudai: A man, a plan, and a wave

Following up with a few images and maps behind a news story published in May on the story of a mayor's determination to safeguard the 3,000 residents in Fudai, a seaside town about 320 miles northeast of Tokyo. Here's a map, from the Fudai Wiki page
That man was Kotoku Wamura, mayor of Fudai from 1947 to 1987. For those familiar with Japanese or at least Google Translate, the good mayor's Wiki page is here. His photograph:
It's from Culture Smash, which also corrects English-language news accounts' spelling of the mayor's first name.

Beginning in 1972, and against much opposition over the $30 million cost and land forfeitures, Wamura pushed through a twelve-year project to build a 51-foot-high set of floodgates spanning two mountainsides. He wanted to protect the town from the kind of devastation he saw in 1933, after the wave generated by the Sanriku Earthquake drowned or buried 439 people in Fudai. That wave topped out at 94 feet at TarĊ

Of all the Japanese towns and cities that erected some kind of wave barrier, Fudai's was the tallest. 

Here's an oblique view of Fudai's setting, from LongNow:
A Google Map overhead view of the town:
And the structure itself. The movable floodgates are necessary to let the river flow through in normal times.
And a view from the seaside.
The tsunami on March 11 actually overtopped the giant gates by 15 feet, but the main force of the wave was broken. Damage to the town on the protected side was inconsequential. 

Wamura died in 1997, but the people of Fudai have been visiting his grave to pay respects. His theory became their reality. 

So when you face opposition and wonder whether one person can ever make a difference, recall Fudai, town by the sea ... a town that's still standing.

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