WELLINGTON, Aug 17 (Bernama) -- People fleeing the tsunami that struck the northeast coast of Japan in March last year might have been heading right into the path of the water, according to a New Zealand expert on environmental hazards.
In some villages the main escape road followed the path of the river the same path the tsunami followed, University of Canterbury tsunami researcher Dr Christopher Gomez said Friday.
Poor original planning, inadequate engineering and ineffective evacuation plans all contributed to the deaths of 20,000 people in the tsunami, Xinhua news agency quoted Gomez as saying in a statement.
Having emergency assembly areas at schools by the coast, ill-conceived protection walls and an inadequate evacuation plan that failed to take into account the ageing population also contributed to the disaster, he said.
A magnitude-9.0 undersea earthquake resulted in a series of tsunami waves, reaching up to 40 metres above sea level on the coast of Miyagi Prefecture, northeastern Japan.
More than 720,000 buildings were impacted by the tsunami, with 109,862 buildings demolished, 127,100 buildings partially destroyed and more than 480,,270 buildings severely damaged.
Gomez said there was a feeling of over-confidence in the engineered structures to protect coastal cities.
"There needs to be better city planning, with roads not converging towards a tsunami threat. In villages the main escape roads followed the river, which the tsunami followed as well.
Schools and evacuation grounds should not be rebuilt on the sea-front. There should be a better approach to natural hazards and an evolving safety plan," he said.
Gomez had visited some of the worst hit areas, such as Kamaishi and Ofunato, in northeast Japan last year.
"Almost 18 months after the disaster there, more than 300,000 people still live in temporary shelters. Many of the elderly residents drowned in their own houses, being unable to evacuate as planned."
Gomez, who had worked on the big 2004 Asian tsunami disaster and lived in Japan for six years, is currently working on several projects in collaboration with Japanese universities.
He will outline his study and visit to Japan after the tragedy at an Australasian natural hazards management conference to be held at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch next week.
More than 250 researchers and specialists from New Zealand, Australia and the United States are expected to attend the conference on Aug 22 and 23.