Japan kindergarten told to pay $2.3m damages over tsunami deaths

TOKYO (AFP) - A Japanese court on Tuesday ordered a kindergarten to pay US$1.8 million (S$2.3 million) to parents of four children who died after being put on a bus that drove towards an incoming tsunami.

Minutes after the giant undersea earthquake of March 2011, staff at Hiyori Kindergarten, which sits on a hill in the badly-hit city of Ishinomaki, sent children home on a route that took them towards the sea.

Five children and one woman were killed when the bus was engulfed by the huge waves that swept over the seaside road as the bus was trying to turn around.

Sendai District Court ordered the kindergarten and its then-headteacher to pay a combined 170 million yen in damages to bereaved families.

The ruling is the first of its kind against a business in north-east Japan over deaths in the disaster, media reported.

The kindergarten had argued it was impossible to know there would be such a big tsunami and the decision to send children home had been sound.

But chief judge Norio Saiki said the kindergarten was "obliged to collect information actively after workers felt a giant earthquake lasting three minutes," according to public broadcaster NHK.

"The kindergarten head failed to collect information and sent the bus seaward, which resulted in the loss of the children's lives," he was quoted as saying.

More than 18,000 people died in the tsunami and tens of thousands of people were made homeless in Japan's worst post-World War II disaster.

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