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Damage found in school walls across Osaka Pref., including one that crushed student

Takatsuki city officials carry out an inspection of the outer wall of the Municipal Juei Elementary School, in Takatsuki, Osaka Prefecture, on June 19, 2018. (Mainichi)

OSAKA -- A total of 384 schools, both prefectural and municipal kindergartens and elementary and junior high schools, in northern Osaka Prefecture were confirmed to have sustained damage to concrete block walls and other outer walls after a magnitude 6.1 quake shook the area, the Osaka Prefectural Board of Education told the Mainichi Shimbun.

As there is a danger of large aftershocks following the June 18 earthquake, which was recorded as a lower 6 on the 7-point Japanese seismic intensity scale, the prefectural board of education has prohibited entry into the areas surrounding walls that have sustained damage in order to protect the safety of students.

In the quake, Takatsuki Municipal Juei Elementary School fourth-grader Rina Miyake, 9, died after the concrete block wall around the school collapsed on top of her. City board of education officials said the wall was in violation of the Building Standards Act, exceeding the legal height limit of 2.2 meters by 1.3 meters.

At an evening press conference on June 19, Takatsuki Mayor Takeshi Hamada disclosed that multiple walls at local schools did not have support buttresses designed to prevent their collapse, and the city is planning swift emergency action to repair them.

In the case of Juei elementary, it has been learned that the steel support rods connecting the 1.9-meter high foundation to the 1.6-meter high block wall were only 33-centimeters long. According to Osaka University Graduate School associate professor Yasushi Sanada who specializes in concrete structures, if these rods do not reach all the way to the top of the concrete blocks, then there is a danger of the blocks detaching and falling from the foundation.

Sanada, who accompanied an inspection team from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology on June 19, said the blocks were 15-centimeters thick and eight blocks were stacked on each other to make the wall. However, the steel rods only ran through 13 centimeters of the foundation and 20 centimeters of the blocks. Other steel parts were found in the wall, but they did not support the connection of the blocks to the foundation.

"It was a rather strong earthquake, and I think that the wall was already extremely unstable," Sunada said.

The wall also lacked support buttresses, which are required to be installed in a horizontal interval of 3.4 meters if a wall or fence is higher than 1.2 meters. The Osaka Prefectural Police carried out their own inspection of the premises on June 19, and are currently investigating how the wall came to be built around the school and how it was constructed.

Also on June 19, the Takatsuki Municipal Government carried out emergency inspections of the earthquake resistance of buildings, fences and other structures at 59 municipal elementary and junior high schools. Whether or not there were any legal violations or the precise number of locations surveyed were not made public. However, the head of Takatsuki Board of Education's educational management division said, "Several dangerous walls were found. We will make the information public once the results have been confirmed."

Mayor Hamada also expressed his intention to visit the home of the deceased student and offer her parents an apology. Juei elementary plans to restart classes on June 21, and hold an explanatory meeting for parents and guardians.

The Osaka Municipal Board of Education also carried out emergency inspections of outer walls around pools at city public elementary and junior high schools on June 19. Upon conducting visual and tactile surveys of outer walls constructed of concrete blocks in 1980 or earlier at 46 schools in the city, some blocks in a wall at Osaka Municipal Tsutsuda Elementary School in the city's Nishiyodogawa Ward were found to have come loose.

Following the death of Miyake in Takatsuki, the Osaka Prefectural Board of Education also began an emergency questionnaire survey of every school in the prefecture. It was found that there were cracks and other damage to concrete block walls at 116 prefectural schools and 268 municipal kindergarten, elementary, and junior high schools. Multiple schools also reportedly answered that it looked like the wall might collapse.

Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui revealed on June 19 that if violations of the laws were confirmed in the fences and other structures at public facilities, then they should be swiftly demolished.

"It's no good for a local government to have buildings that do not comply with the law," Matsui said. "There should be an immediate recall."

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