Photo/IllutrationHiromi Tarui, center, superintendent of the Takatsuki city education board, bows in apology over the death of a schoolgirl who was crushed by the collapse of a wall on the city-run school premises at a news conference in Takatsuki, Osaka Prefecture, on June 22. (Kenta Sugino)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

TAKATSUKI, Osaka Prefecture--An elementary school principal revealed on June 21 she was warned in 2015 of the danger of a wall that collapsed in an earthquake on June 18, killing a 9-year-old schoolgirl.

However, city officials inspected the concrete block wall beside the school's swimming pool and deemed it "safe" at the time.

Hiromi Tarui, the city’s superintendent of education, apologized for failing to prevent the tragedy at a news conference on the morning of June 22.

According to Tarui, the wall beside the swimming pool of Juei Elementary School here was identified as one of a few safety concerns by a disaster prevention adviser, who was invited by the school and the PTA to give a disaster prevention workshop on Nov. 2, 2015.

Yoshimi Tanaka, the school principal, informed the city education board about the warning and requested a safety inspection.

On Feb. 25, 2016, two city education board officials, who specialized in electricity and architecture, conducted a brief inspection of the wall, a combination of a visual observation and tapping test to check its soundness and deterioration.

The inspectors found no cracks or tilting, so they concluded the wall was “fine,” and informed Tanaka, who was accompanying them.

The city education board interviewed the inspectors, and they were quoted as saying that they did not question “if the wall was violating the Building Standards Law or not.”

Regarding their failure to recognize the danger in the February 2016 inspection, Tarui said it was not thorough enough as it was “separate from the regular inspection” that is conducted every three years on every school.

“It is a matter of the greatest regret that we could not prevent the accident,” Tarui said, apologizing for the death of the student.

Tanaka first revealed the inspection at a news conference on June 21 and that she “reported (the concern) to the city education board to inspect the wall” three years ago, and after that, she “did not consider it dangerous.”

The wall that collapsed on June 18 in the 6.1-magnitude earthquake was about 40 meters long. It had eight rows of concrete blocks, measuring 1.6 meters high, laid on top of a 1.9-meter high foundation, standing overall 3.5 meters tall.

The Takatsuki city government has admitted since the incident that the wall was an unlawful structure as it did not have buttresses that are required under the Building Standards Law for a wall higher than 1.2 meters, and that the reinforcing rods that connected the foundation and blocks were too short and did not engage the structure to the top.

The Osaka prefectural police are investigating the case for suspicion of professional negligence resulting in death.

On June 21, the Osaka Prefectural Board of Education announced that it has asked all public schools in the prefecture to check the safety of concrete block walls along roads leading to schools and report the findings by June 29.

The request covers 181 prefecture-run schools and another 1,088 schools and nursery schools run by municipal governments, except for those run by the city governments of Osaka and Sakai.

The prefecture produced a checklist for the schools, based on the Building Standards Law.

The schools were requested to conduct a visual check of a list that contains eight criteria, including the height and thickness of a wall, and whether it has cracks or a tilt, wobbliness, the foundation and buttresses.

Should they find problems, the schools are asked to report them to the prefectural education board and consult with the municipal governments where they are sited.

After that, the authorities will consult with owners of such unsafe walls to explore options, such as demolishing them and repairing them.

The city governments of Osaka and Sakai have also started similar inspection for 419 and 150 city-run educational institutions, respectively.

The education ministry has also sent out requests for safety inspections of concrete block walls in school premises across the nation.

On June 22, the demolition of a concrete block wall of city-run Sekimaeminami Elementary School in Tokyo’s Musashino city began.

In response to the Osaka incident, the school checked and discovered that the wall, which was also erected by a swimming pool, did not have adequate buttresses.

The school decided to remove the wall, which was about 2.2 meters tall and spanned about 36 meters. It is believed that the design of the wall, built around the summer of 1971 when the school was inaugurated, was lawful at the time.