housing, miyagi, yomiuri shinbun

Miyagi town flags home owners’ wishes, yomiuri shinbun, 4/7/2011

Miyagi town flags home owners’ wishes
The Yomiuri Shimbun

SENDAI–Red means remove everything, yellow means take away debris but leave the home, and green means please leave everything as it is.

The disaster countermeasures headquarters in Wataricho, Miyagi Prefecture, is asking owners of houses and buildings damaged by last month’s earthquake and tsunami to use colored flags to indicate what they want done with their property.

Self-Defense Forces personnel working to clear mountains of debris from devastated areas have welcomed the color-coding system.

“The residents can clearly show us what they want by using these flags, which has made our work much more efficient,” said 1st Lt. Osamu Kamio of the 10th Engineer Battalion of the Ground Self-Defense Force, which is in charge of removing rubble.

Kamio said the flags had also smoothed the search for bodies trapped in the wreckage.

About 3,000 homes in Wataricho were destroyed or damaged by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami on March 11.

Although the central government has given disaster-hit municipalities approval to remove debris without the consent of home owners, the Wataricho disaster headquarters was reluctant to go ahead without knowing what residents really wanted.

The town headquarters prepared about 6,500 flags and has distributed about 6,100 to evacuees staying in shelters and other places.

Red flags have since popped up all over coastal areas of Wataricho, which was pummeled by the tsunami.

The initiative has won praise from central government officials.

“I’ve never heard of anything like this before,” an Environment Ministry official said. “It deserves credit for respecting owners’ rights to choose.”

After the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, local government officials in Kobe and surrounding areas gave each building a number to indicate the extent it was damaged. This was done with the owner in attendance. Local governments then decided if they would demolish the building based on this assessment, according to the ministry’s Waste Management and Recycling Department.

However, home owners had no channel through which to express their own wishes regarding the fate of their houses.

(Apr. 7, 2011)

About liz

from the u.s., recently moved from kobe to sendai, japan, researching community-based housing recovery after disaster.

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