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Misplaced trust: 30-foot tsunami wall didn't save Japanese village

By Paula Hancocks, CNN
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30 ft wall couldn't stop second tsunami
  • Fishing village of Ryoishi was devastated by tsunami following March 11, 2011 Japan quake
  • A 9 meter tsunami wall designed to protect the people of Ryoishi failed to hold back the water
  • In Iwate prefecture, 96% of the boats were destroyed, ruining the fishing industry
  • One hundred years ago a tidal wave wiped the village out, killing 90% of its residents

Ryoishi, Japan (CNN) -- Kawasaki Takeshi tried to hide his eyes as he breaks down. He is reliving the moment the "great wave" chased him and his wife into the hills.

His shock is even more raw as this wasn't supposed to happen here. Not in the small fishing village of Ryoishi where a 9 meter (30 foot) tsunami wall used to dominate the landscape.

This is not the first tsunami to devastate this area. One hundred years ago a tidal wave wiped the village out and is believed to have killed 90% of its residents.

This time it was supposed to be different but the force of the water bulldozed a path through one part of the wall and simply came over the top of it in other parts destroying everything in its path.

Gallery: Village devastated by tsunami

Takeshi used to live in the hills, but moved to the coast after the wall was built -- he says it made him feel safe.

He says, "This isn't a bad place and tsunamis don't happen that often, but after seeing the great wave my wife has decided we shouldn't be here."

His house and his boat which gave him his livelihood are both gone. Takeshi used to fish abalone and sea urchin. Fishing was one of the main industries for of employment in this region, but in Iwate prefecture alone 96% of the boats have been destroyed.

It's hard to see how the fishing industry will pick itself up again. Takeshi is moving away from the coast as is his neighbor and fellow fisherman. His wife has refused to return here since the tsunami hit.

At the age of 77, he is unlikely to be able to start from scratch. But he picks up any remnants of his fishing gear he can find, just in case. What is left intact barely fills one small basket.

His neighbor finds his clock. It has stopped at 3:22pm -- the exact moment his life changed and countless others ended.

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