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Once Hated, Now a Hero

In the 1960s, towns along the northeast coast of Japan began erecting seawalls to withstand waves of about 30 feet (the height of a terrible tsunami that struck in 1933). The walls were an eyesore everywhere, but they were especially disliked in the village of Fudai.

Kotoko Wamura was the mayor of Fudai when the town began planning its seawall. Wamura had been a young man when the 1933 tsunami wiped out his home town. And he also remembered the stories of an even larger tsunami (50 feet), one that had struck in 1896.

On one side of the city, the mayor built a huge flood gate where the Fudai river meets the coast. And on the other side, he constructed a tower seawall at a height of 51 feet, the tallest seawall on the NE coast. Residents who lived in the shadow of the wall were furious, unconvinced they needed a wall so expensive and so ugly, blocking their ocean view. But Wamura wouldn't back down.

Opinions about the mayor and the wall changed on Friday March 11 2011, when a tsunami, described by one resident as "a black wave, darker than a nightmare" struck Japan. Towns up and down the coast were wiped out, but not Fudai. The wall, once derided and despised, held back an ocean of death and destruction.

One resident, Ms. Odow, owns a home right behind the seawall. Recognizing that the project was initially hated by the residents, a reporter asked what the residents thought of the mayor now. She responded, “They appreciate the mayor now ... [he is] the hero of Fudai.”

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