because of my research about disaster recovery, i am very fortunate to already know some of the people who were really involved with recovery after the kobe earthquake. there’s one small group who are made up of professors/community organizers/non-profits (some people wearing all of these hats!), who are involved in a number of different projects that i’ve joined in (the disaster recovery community starts to feel like everyone is connected!).
yesterday, they were having a meeting to discuss how to support tohoku. since i’m in hawaii, i wasn’t there of course, but they called me via skype. at that time, i was at my brother’s friends’ house, and my phone wasn’t working, so i sat in the office of their house, using their computer, which didn’t have a camera, and i didn’t know a way to hook up a mike, and i couldn’t type in japanese! so it was a funny skype ‘conversation’; i could hear everything that they were saying, but they couldn’t hear me. and neither could see each other. and since there was no japanese language, i had to type in romanji (which is strange for japanese people to read). but i could hear them talking, and each of their voices, and the distinctive laughs–especially of one of the professors, who has a very jolly high-pitched belly-laugh.
these are a handful of people who worked together after the kobe earthquake 16 years ago, who are close friends, who are experts and comrades in disaster recovery. they were discussing the details of the situation (they had already discussed forming a network to support tohoku), and logistics for supplies, and a reconnaissance visit.
hearing their disembodied voices, for the first time after the earthquake and tsunami, i felt comforted. as adults, we can never have that feeling of safety that only a child can feel. and after any natural disaster, there is nothing that can take it back, or change the fact that it happened. but when i listened to my japanese friends, disaster recovery experts who are ready to start doing what needs to be done for the victims of the tsunami, i feel encouraged. i really trust their actions, their instincts, their knowledge and ability. and i feel so honored and fortunate to be considered in some small way a part of their group.
i feel ready too. ready to do whatever i can. ready to be back in japan, already, even if my mom is scared for me. the work that comes next is the reason for everything i have studied until now. i can’t wait to start.
The construction of temporary housing began on Monday in disaster-stricken Miyagi prefecture.
The prefecture said that since more than 80,000 residents are taking shelter within Miyagi, it will build over 1,000 housing units in the cities of Sendai, Ishinomaki and elsewhere.
Work on the foundations for 135 emergency homes began on land owned by Ishinomaki city, where more than 25,000 residents remain in evacuation centers.
Workers laid down fresh gravel and drove pickets into the ground.
The city also began accepting applications on Saturday from people hoping to occupy these units. As more than 730 applications were filed on Saturday alone, lots are to be drawn in late April to decide who will live there.
A man who applied on Monday expressed the hope that authorities would build as many temporary housing units as possible, as the quake victims cannot stay in evacuation shelters indefinitely.
Miyagi prefecture says the units will be rent-free for up to 2 years.
Monday, March 28, 2011 15:47 +0900 (JST)
on NHK world, today they covered the start of temporary housing.
“in iwate prefecture, the first temporary housing is being built-the exterior is already complete. these are the the first temporary houses to be built. applications started yesterday. at the jr. high school, now housing 1000, they are accepting applications in the evacuation center on sunday and monday.”
thinking about the u.s. after hurricane katrina, and the hassles and delays faced by residents to try to get a FEMA trailer, this systems seems so much better that it’s not even comparable. for victims staying in the evacuation center, having applications there is so obvious. but nothing like that EVER happened after katrina. of course, having evacuation centers close by plays a role in this.
“in Iwate Prefecture, roads are repaired, and phone lines are being installed.
200,000 people still in shelters. okuma town in fukushima, will relocate as a group to ise waka (??) city, 60 km away.
asano kato, a designer, created a project in fukushima city, where 140 children in a evacuation center,to have them create a vision for a rebuilt town, by making cardboard town model. kids enjoy it, and it encourages parents too.”
“The city of Rikuzentakata in Iwate Prefecture, one of the Pacific coastal regions hardest hit by the devastating March 11 quake, started taking applications for temporary housing Saturday, becoming the first municipality to take a such step, a move toward reconstruction, in the affected areas.
Some evacuees are hinging their hopes on a chance to get away from the awkward life in shelters, while others are hesitant about taking the offer, wondering if they should continue living in their hometown that was flattened by the devastating tsunami.
‘‘We are planning to accommodate all disaster victims hoping to move in,’’ said a city official. The local government is planning to determine how many units to build after checking demand.
Rikuzentakata had a population of roughly 23,300 in about 7,800 households, according to the 2010 national census conducted by the central government before the quake.
The first applicants showed up at a counter of the municipal government office set up in a prefabricated building just past 8:30 a.m. in the morning.
A woman, 49, from the Kesen district, said her home was completely torn down by the tsunami. ‘‘I am hoping that we could get a large temporary home because we are a family of six.’’ She wishes to get a home in the same district, saying she does not want to leave the place where she is attached to after living there for years.
Seishichi Terui, 70, said his home was washed away and pleaded to a city official, saying, ‘‘I hope you will let us move into a temporary home as soon as possible.’‘
Many neighbors remain missing, he said. He evacuated to a municipal junior high school with his wife Kimiko, 64, taking with them little more than the clothes on their back. He said, ‘‘There isn’t much freedom’’ at the shelter.
People will be allowed to live in the temporary homes for up to two years.
Setsuko Kumagai, 70, who lost her home in the Hirota district, where she was living alone, was despondent. ‘‘Even if I could move in, being a pensioner, I would have difficulty making a living after I move out of the temporary housing,’’ she said.
Some elderly people who had been living alone are planning to start a new life with others. Kiyoko Kikaiwada, 77, who lost her home in the Takata district in the tsunami, wants to share a home with an 86-year-old woman friend who used to live in her neighborhood.
‘‘I would feel lonely if I have to live alone, and I would also feel anxious because my back and knees are bad,’’ she said.
Mitsuyo Sasaki, 50, who is living in a shelter with her 54-year-old husband and 9-year-old daughter, said, ‘‘We have not made up our mind yet about whether we should apply for it.’‘
She said she is attached to her neighbors and her neighborhood and is thankful for them for helping her raise her daughter. But having lost relatives in the tsunami, she said she is uneasy. ‘‘People say it’s a tsunami that only comes once every 1,000 years but I don’t feel secure even after it happened.’‘
She said she has no plans to rebuild a home where her home, which was washed away by the tsunami, had once stood.
Sasaki also expressed concerns about her daughter’s school that was also hit by the disaster. She is also worried about what would happen to her husband’s job. He has been working for a company in adjacent Ofunato city, which was also hard hit by the quake and tsunami. ‘‘I am troubled as to whether I should continue living in Rikuzentakata,’’ she said.”
(my comment: collective relocation is better for social cohesion; scattered relocation leads to lots of problems in the lives o evacuees, and loss of community)
“Municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture are relocating residents and administrative functions to remote areas. Many of them are located within the evacuation zone around the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
On March 19th, Futaba Town moved its functions and the entire community to Saitama City in Saitama Prefecture.
Two other municipalities have also decided on collective relocation of administration and residents. Okuma Town plans to move to Aizu-Wakamatsu City in Fukushima Prefecture, and Naraha Town, to Aizu-Misato Town in the same prefecture.
In a similar move, Minami Soma City evacuated about 5,000 residents in groups to Niigata, Gunma, and other prefectures.
Residents of Namie Town and Hirono Town have also moved out in groups to Saitama, Tochigi, and other prefectures.”
Saturday, March 26, 2011 19:22 +0900 (JST)
fears of radiation and/or potential nuclear accidents are preventing help from reaching people near the fukushima power plant.
last week, the evacuation zone around the dai-ichi (number 1) plant was established at 20 km radius, and the people living between 20-30 kilometers away were told to stay indoors.
(the u.s. government suggested staying 50 km away from the plant).
i’ve seen several segments on NHK about people in the evacuation zone. some have not left, and can’t or don’t want to leave their houses. for the people living in the 20-30 km zone, there are no stores, etc., and it’s impossible to continue your life without ever going outside. NHK interviewed a doctor who reopened his clinic within the 20-30 km zone, and is treating patients. he said ‘it is the last work of my life.’ now, the government has issued a voluntary evacuation for this zone, because of the difficulty of people to live there.
i’m reminded of new orleans after hurricane katrina, when there was toxic water and other health hazards afoot. the water system had been compromised, although perhaps it hadn’t been that safe to begin with (even before the storm, people who could afford to not drink it didn’t), soil was also contaminated. for people working in relief and especially house gutting, there were dangers of inhaling fine particles, chemicals, and poisonous substances that were in the air while homes were being cleaned up. safe practices and wearing a good mask should protect you, but many people got what was known as the ‘katrina cough.’
after the kobe earthquake, there was a considerable amount of asbestos in the air from damaged buildings. and fires kept rescue workers out of the most damaged areas immediately after the quake.
today, prime minister kan gave a tv address. it didn’t have much substance to it.
temporary housing is planned for the affected area, in some places to be built by may. (previously, i have read somewhere that it will take a year.) there was also some news earlier this week about a small amount of temporary housing being planned for.
it seems like the nuclear situation….is stabilizing? although now they think that the containment vessel of reactor three may have been compromised, and is the reason for high levels of leaking radioactivity. earlier this week, there was radioactive iodine found in tokyo waters (at levels unsafe for infants), and subsequently other prefectures. similarly, milk and produce from several prefectures has also tested above limits for radioactivity. this is going to really seriously impact farmers in many areas…
almost exactly 1 week after the biggest earthquake japan has ever seen, 9.0 magnitude, and tsunami struck, i left japan to visit my brother in hawaii.
it was a strange feeling, and it had been a hard decision, and it’s difficult to say if it was the right choice. here’s what i know: it made my mother happy and relieved; i will try to take a vacation, which i desperately needed even before this all happened; i wasn’t sleeping or eating properly, so i am sure a little relaxation will help; i’m happy to see my brother; and i am committed to use this time in hawaii to work on getting organized and thinking about what i can do to support the victims of this disaster, and the recovery efforts.
personally, wednesday was one of the most difficult days.
on wednesday, the situation at the nuclear reactor at fukushima became more dangerous, there was a spike in radioactivity, and i felt like the attitude of people changed, both people i know and also the people out at about.
its seemed like some kind of nuclear accident was quite possible. people seemed more serious and somber, you started to be able to hear them talking about the reactor on the trains (before, no one had been mentioning it much in public).
we had our doctoral seminar at the university. it was a relief to be doing something normal, and to see my sensei. i really respect his opinion, and he is of course an expert in disaster and recovery, and calm in the face of most anything. i asked if he would talk a little about what was going on, and he did. he showed us a japanese newspaper with a map with all the towns that were destroyed. there were so many. and many of them are along a very winding coastline–it will be hard to get to them to search for survivors. we talked about the disaster itself, how fast the tsunami had come–faster than the very good warning system that is in place. and about the japanese earthquake warning system. he had an idea to take a ship from the university, load it up with relief goods and volunteers, and sail to the affected area (this idea was later not approved, but i thought it was a pretty creative way to deal with the inability to access certain areas).
one of my colleagues from korea told us she was going back to korea for a few weeks. her mother, like mine, was worried about the situation in japan. her mother had already made several ticket reservations, which my friend had cancelled each time. but she had finally given in. i told my sensei that my mother also desperately wanted me to leave japan (go anywhere! hong kong, europe…etc.) and he said there was no reason i shouldn’t, i.e. no harm in going. this was the first time i started to consider it.
foreigners had started to leave tokyo in some numbers by this time. like me, i think that many had family who were scared what they were hearing in the international media. especially the lack of clarity about which part of japan was affected by the disaster and which part was safe. i certainly don’t think it’s any of my or anyone else’s business what any individual choose to do-to stay, leave tokyo, leave japan, etc. some countries started evacuating their residents, or recommending that people not travel to japan, or leave tokyo. it was a very confusing time for many, i believe, including me. and hard to know who to listen to.
on wednesday night, i taught an english lesson to my friends’ kids. i’ve been teaching them for several months now, and they are really fun kids, elementary school age, 2 girls and 1 little brother. their moms are friends too, and take turns inviting me to have dinner with them after each lesson.
the moms were both really worried, which shocked me. 1, that they were so much more worried than any other japanese people i had seen up until then, and 2, that they weren’t making much of an effort to hide this from their kids. they were saying quite directly that they were scared, that we don’t know what’s going to happen. one of them wanted her parents to come from tokyo to kobe, but they had refused, saying they wouldn’t leave the rest of their family behind. they were worried for their kids (radiation it much more dangerous for children). talking to them, i decided that for my mother’s sake i would try to leave japan for a bit.
i got home and discussed with my evacuee/guests, who had also heard quite alarming news from the german media (one of the most extreme, perhaps). we decided we would look for tickets in the morning. and i slept for a few fretful hours.
since i’m writing this now, a week after it all happened, the details of the events of each day kind of blend together. mostly, i remember what i did on what day, or how the situation seemed at that time. but i don’t have a clear chronology in my mind of what the news was reporting.
since the first day, the number of victims who were confirmed dead continued to grow. at one point early on, it became know that there was one town minami sanriku, where 10,000 residents were unaccounted for. there were endless stories of people looking for loved ones, and some tearful reunions on camera. there was a story of a elderly man who was found floating at sea several days after the tsunami, and a stories of entire schools whos students couldn’t be located. stories of jr high school students coming together to provide for the elderly people staying in the evacuation center. there was one story that first reported a man had been found alive in in house, but later it was learned that he had escaped, and then returned later and had passed out. 9 days after the tsunami, there was the hopeful story of a boy and his elderly grandma who had been trapped, but survived to be rescued. but underlying these stories was the theme of the relentless tsunami, the people swept away, and the survivors, many elderly, staying in evacuation centers with no heat, not enough blankets or food. it was a truly terrible and tragic situation, and it felt like there was nothing that we could do to help them right away.
i spoke with a friend on thursday, who was closely involved in the kobe recovery after the ’95 earthquake. she had been on the phone all day, trying to get a truckload of relief supplies sent from hyogo, and somehow it couldn’t be arranged. i didn’t really understand the details, but it was destroying her, and making her have trouble to think clearly. this is a strong woman, who can get just about anything accomplished. but the frustration had pushed her close to tears.