Sites for temporary units, new homes on high ground in conflict
SENDAI — Three months after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami and with a nuclear power plant disaster still unfolding, thousands of evacuees are still living in shelters as construction of temporary housing plods along.
In the worst-affected prefectures — Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima — only half of the 52,000 temporary homes required have been completed.
Even after all evacuees find temporary housing, however, there will remain the extremely taxing issue of how to rebuild residential areas.
Miyagi Prefecture’s policy is to build much of the temporary housing inland to save coastal land for permanent homes. On the scarce high ground available in coastal areas, such structures would be in the way when projects to build permanent housing begin, a prefectural official said.
The inhabitants there want their homes in the coastal areas where they used to reside. So construction of only about half of the needed temporary facilities has begun in areas around the major fishing port of Kesennuma, which is famous for the intricate contours of its coastline.
Miyagi Gov. Yoshihiro Murai said progress on the facilities depends on consent.
“We hope to quicken the pace of construction with the consent of the disaster-hit municipalities and people,” Murai said.
Iwate is trying to satisfy quake-tsunami survivors by preserving their prequake communities. The prefecture built temporary homes on previously uninhabited, sloping land near the waterfront so residents can live near where their houses used to stand.
But given the scarcity of flat space in Iwate’s coastal areas, a major project to build new houses will have to be carried out on hilly areas that surround it.
Such an undertaking would further burden the financially challenged local governments. Local authorities therefore are still puzzled about how to proceed with reconstruction.
Residents of the Akahama district of the Iwate town of Otsuchi, for example, insist on continuing to live on the high ground where some 130 temporary houses are being built.
In Akahama, more than half of the 300 local families lost their homes to tsunami and fires.
For these people, even the thought of giving up the site of their temporary abode is inconceivable because they are desperate to take up permanent residence there like everyone else who used to live in the closely knit community.
Etsuko Tanaka, 73, used to work at a seafood processing plant. She fondly remembers the kindness her neighbors showed her after she lost her home.
“People whose houses were not damaged so generously gave me food,” she says. “I wouldn’t mind if I have to live in a temporary house for long.” That appears to be a small price to pay if she and her friends can restore their community.
But building permanent houses on spots already taken up by temporary dwellings would be difficult for home builders and costly as well.
The situation seems even more complex in Fukushima Prefecture, where Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s crippled nuclear power station remains a constant threat.
The prefecture estimates that 24,000 new homes must be built for evacuees, but municipalities so far have requested only 15,000.
“It is hard even to know what residents want because some people have fled (across the country),” a prefectural official said.