More than 850 people died in Kamaishi and about 450 remain missing in the aftermath of the March 11 magnitude 9 earthquake and resultant tsunami, with only five of the casualties primary or junior high school students.
About 2,900 students of Kamaishi's 14 schools survived, including students of the three schools overwhelmed by the tsunami -- Kamaishi East Junior High School, Unosumai Elementary School and Toni Elementary School -- who reacted quickly and escaped.
The Japanese Times reported Friday local educators credit the high survival rate to a disaster prevention education program instituted a few years ago.
"If it weren't for them, I don't think I would be alive," said Shin Saito, 38, an English teacher at Kamaishi East in one of the city's hardest-hit areas.
The students were taught the technical earthquake history of their region and then given practical plans and drills. But when the time for action came, a little improvisation helped.
"I was coaxing a few elementary school kids to keep moving, but as I ran, I remember hitting my legs because they were trembling," said Saito, who still dreams about the experience.
"Things are very tough already, and the students may face many difficulties going forward, but I know they won't be defeated," he said.