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After Quake, Japanese Fishing Port Remains At Risk, NPR, 8/24/11

Mitsuo Iwabuchi stands in one of his ruined fish processing plants. The regional government won’t allow reconstruction to begin without a plan to cope with flooding. The quake actually lowered Kesennuma closer to the sea, and the fishing port floods when the tide comes in.

At first glance, the Japanese fishing port of Kesennuma looks like it’s making a comeback from last March’s devastating tsunami. A half-dozen fishing boats arrive one morning in this city of 70,000 and unload tons of bonito onto a partially rebuilt port.

The fish roll down a conveyor, beneath a freshwater shower, and splash into plastic bins filled with ice water. Mitsuo Iwabuchi, a wholesaler bidding on the catch, says the port is improving, but the infrastructure that drives it, including scores of fish-processing and ice-making factories, still lies in ruins.

Iwabuchi’s two processing plants were among those destroyed. Unable to cut up, freeze and package fish in any volume, the port can only handle one-tenth of the catch it used to.

“When we had factories, we used to make bonito sashimi and we’d freeze them and ship them to Thailand,” says Iwabuchi, who walks around in bright yellow boots inspecting the day’s catch. “Now, we can’t do any of that. We can only ship the bonito fresh.”

So far, the regional government has forbid anyone from rebuilding in the tsunami zone. Iwabuchi says the reason is as simple as it is unsettling.

“The land sank,” says Iwabuchi. “More and more water is coming in, and it’s flooding all over.”

Life After The Quake: Daily Floods

The magnitude-9 earthquake of March 11 literally reshaped Japan’s northeastern coastline. Kesennuma’s shoreline is now nearly 2 1/2 feet lower on average than before, local officials say. The result: The city’s most valuable industrial land floods twice a day at high tide.

The effect is surreal.

At low tide, the port and downtown business district remain dry. But when the tide rises, seawater pours in from the harbor and floods streets and empty lots where buildings once stood.

Most of Kesennuma’s large fishing boats either survived the tsunami or have been repaired. But many do not move from the dock, because most of the city’s fish-processing factories still lie in ruins.

The government is trying to draw up a rebuilding plan, but Iwabuchi, who has already laid off 80 of his 100 employees, says the fishing industry is losing precious time.

“The question isn’t how much patience I have,” he says ruefully. “It’s how long my money can last.”

Across from the port sit nine trawlers, some freshly painted, repaired from the tsunami and ready to go. But most haven’t moved in months.

Hiroyuki Sasaki, who owns one of the boats, says that without processing factories to handle his tuna catch, there’s no point in fishing.

Before the tsunami, the fishing industry here was already struggling with low prices and an aging work force. Unless Kesennuma rebuilds quickly, Sasaki worries that many fishermen will retire with no one to replace them.

“I don’t even want to imagine it,” he says, wearing a towel over his head in the 95-degree heat. “It’s so scary. I really want young people to study and get captain’s and engineering licenses.”

Uncertainty Over Rebuilding

Mayor Shigeru Sugawara says the sunken coastline is the city’s biggest problem, and it poses tough questions.

“First, to what height should we reclaim the land?” he says. “Secondly, how close can people live to the coast? And where to locate the factories?”

The government hopes to make a decision in the next couple of months, but Sugawara says reconstruction might take several years.

Businesspeople here say the work should already be under way.

Hiromitsu Miyagawa owned a grocery store next to the port and thrived off its activity. Like everything else here, it was wiped out by the tsunami. Now he sells bananas, pineapples and grapes from an abandoned pharmacy with blown-out walls and a collapsed ceiling.

“I think the government’s approach has been really bad,” says Miyagawa, who wears a grimy white apron and quotes prices for his produce over his cellphone.

“They should have focused on the city’s main industry and raised the land around the port by 3 feet as quickly as possible. If that had happened, I could have put my shop in a better place.”

Miyagawa’s business is the only one for blocks in what used to be the city’s seaside business district. Today, it remains largely a ghost town of smashed buildings and empty foundations.

Miyagawa says the delay to rebuild adds to the uncertainty surrounding Kesennuma’s future. How can people start back, he says, when they don’t know what’s going to happen?

Work comp claims soar in worst-hit prefectures,japan times, 8/18/11



SENDAI — Over 1,500 applications for workers’ compensation have been filed, as of Wednesday, for those who died or vanished while on the job during the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in the three worst-hit prefectures, according to a tally by a local labor bureau.

Approval has already been given for insurance benefits to be paid in 1,305 cases, equivalent to about one-third of payments made nationwide in fiscal 2010. The number of payments made is almost certain to become the largest ever for a single natural disaster.

This compares with the 67 cases of compensation payments made in the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, which struck before dawn, and 10 cases following the 2004 quake that struck the Chuetsu area in Niigata Prefecture. The March disaster struck on a Friday in midafternoon.

According to the Miyagi labor bureau, 1,005 applications were made in Miyagi Prefecture, almost all by family members of workers who died or disappeared in the tsunami. Also, 399 were filed in Iwate Prefecture and 131 in Fukushima Prefecture. These numbers are expected to rise.

“I believe there are bereaved families who do not know about the existence of the Workmen’s Accident Compensation Insurance or are hesitating about applying. I hope they will consult us,” an official at the labor bureau said. Once approved, the families will each receive a ¥3 million special payment, in addition to pension and other benefits.

Rule changes for public housing buyers, daily yomiuri, 8/23/11

The government will likely take special measures to permit the sale of public houses to be built by disaster-hit local governments to disaster survivors wishing to buy them within five years from the construction date, it was learned Monday.

Normally, wooden public houses are available for purchase only after 7-1/2 years have passed since construction. However, the government plans to take special measures to help disaster victims put their lives back in order sooner.

The government likely will include a pertinent regulation in the bills tentatively named Great East Japan Restoration Special Measures, to be submitted to an extraordinary Diet session in autumn.

Houses are scheduled to be built in the disaster-hit prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima from autumn by local governments, with subsidies from the central government.

The government expects to facilitate early settlement of disaster survivors by making home purchases possible sooner. A senior official at the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry said, “Disaster victims will be able to purchase their own houses as fixed assets early, which will help them stabilize their social status.”

The government also feels that if the number of wooden houses built with local wood increases, it will help revive the local forestry industry.

To support disaster victims’ housing, the government plans to supply temporary housing units where people can live rent-free for a maximum of two years and houses where people are required to pay rent but can live long-term and purchase the houses if they choose to.

(Aug. 23, 2011)

Slow aid distribution frustrating survivors, japan times, 8/23/11


Japan’s worst natural disaster on record spurred a $3.7 billion outpouring of donations. But five months later, survivors living in temporary housing are still waiting for aid.

Half of the funds donated by groups including the Red Cross have yet to be disbursed amid a backlog of data processing and wrangling over how to distribute the money.

Thousands of people in Miyagi, the prefecture worst affected by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, and Fukushima, where one of Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s nuclear plants had three meltdowns, have received the least cash, health ministry documents show.

That’s adding to uncertainty for thousands of families reeling from the disaster, which left more than 20,000 dead or missing and destroyed 263,000 homes.

It’s also frustrating the recovery of an agricultural region that contributes about 8 percent of the gross domestic product and also manufactures goods ranging from cars and electronics to beer.

“We have about 500 to 600 applications coming in daily and are processing the same amount each day,” said Emiko Okuyama, the mayor of Sendai, where 700 people died and 65,000 homes were destroyed by the tsunami. The city doubled the number of staff issuing payments to survivors, she said last week.

But 82 percent of donations allocated to Sendai have yet to be given to families in the city, according to the ministry’s documents.

“I’m sorry, I can’t say when most of the money will be sent to the people,” Okuyama told reporters at an Aug. 9 briefing. “We are doing all we can to accelerate the process.”

The money was raised by the Japanese Red Cross, the Central Community Chest of Japan, NHK and its welfare arm, the health ministry said.

Donations were also sent from 77 Red Cross branches overseas totaling ¥38.7 billion ($506 million) as of Aug. 9, according to a statement by the Japanese Red Cross.

A total of ¥25 billion has been earmarked for running programs to distribute relief supplies, provide medical services and appliances such as washing machines at evacuation centers, and to help move household goods to shelters, it said.

In Fukushima, one of 15 prefectures eligible to receive donations, 37 percent of allocated funds weren’t transferred as of Aug. 12, according to the health ministry documents.

In Chiba Prefecture, 36 percent of the money allocated for the municipality’s 34 cities and towns is still sitting in local authorities’ bank accounts. In Urayasu, a bayside suburb that’s home to Tokyo Disneyland, 42 percent of funds have been distributed.

In Fukushima, payments have been delayed while officials in some towns addressed complaints that a policy to allocate a set amount per household put large families at a disadvantage.

“Our town has many big families,” said Minoru Shoji, who works in the government office in Iitate.

His village in Fukushima was one of the towns the government ordered evacuated because of the threat of nuclear fallout from Tepco’s Fukushima No. 1 power plant.

“It’s not fair if a household with only one person gets the same amount as a family of 10,” he said.

Criteria for allocating donations to survivors were set by a committee comprising the Japanese Red Cross, academics and local government officials of the affected areas.

An emergency payment was made in April that gave families ¥350,000 for each dead or missing relative.

The same amount was also given to families whose homes were destroyed and those ordered to evacuate within the nuclear crisis exclusion zone.

The committee devised a method in June in which funds were allocated according to the severity of damage suffered by cities and towns, which then devised their own method for disbursement to households. Local governments are also supplementing the donations to survivors from funds they raised independently.

In Iitate, ¥204,000 will be given to each of the 6,567 residents by the end of August, town official Shoji said.

Families whose homes were inside the 30-km radius of the crippled nuclear plant and residents outside the zone who had to be evacuated will be paid ¥300,000 per person in the Fukushima city of Minamisoma.

Those told to prepare for evacuation will receive ¥220,000 and the rest will be paid ¥200,000, the city’s website said.

A shortage of staff at the Japanese Red Cross delayed the use of funds raised overseas, Ramona Bajema, a senior program manager with AmeriCares, a nonprofit disaster relief group planning to distribute $8 million raised through donations, said in an interview in Yokohama.

“It’s a lot of paperwork,” Bajema said.

“It takes an incredible amount of time” because staff must travel and consult with government officials to plan projects and oversee all of the works being sponsored by the donations, she said.

N-plant area uninhabitable ‘for many yrs’ / Govt to keep entry ban for 3-km zone, daily yomiuri, 8/22/11


Areas within three kilometers of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant likely will be kept off-limits for an extended period–possibly for several decades–because they have been highly contaminated with radioactive substances, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

The ban on entry to these areas will remain in place even after the 20-kilometer no-go zone around the plant is lifted when the crisis at the nuclear plant is brought under control, according to government sources.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan will likely hold talks with leaders of local governments in the affected areas and apologize for the prolonged evacuation.

The areas to be kept off-limits will likely include parts of Futabamachi and Okumamachi, both in Fukushima Prefecture. They are within three kilometers of the nuclear plant crippled by March 11 disaster.

The areas could be kept off-limits for “several decades,” according to government sources.

In April, the government designated the 20-kilometer no-entry zone around the Fukushima No. 1 power plant. The government had planned to lift the no-entry zone after the reactors at the nuclear plant are brought to a stable condition known as cold shutdown by mid-January.

However, the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry estimated that cumulative radiation levels during the year since the accidents at the plant would greatly exceed 20 millisieverts–the benchmark for designating an expanded evacuation zone–at 35 locations mainly in Okumamachi and Futabamachi in the no-entry zone.

The annual cumulative radiation level was calculated to reach 508.1 millisieverts in the Koirino district of Okumamachi, which is three kilometers west-southwest of the nuclear plant, and 393.7 millisieverts in Ottozawa in the town.

The ministry measured radiation levels at 50 locations in the no-entry zone. It estimated annual cumulative radiation levels on the assumption that residents are outside for eight hours a day and inside wooden homes for 16 hours a day.

The government decided that areas very close to the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant will be uninhabitable for an extended period because they are heavily contaminated with radioactive substances and could suffer further serious damage if another major problem occurs at the plant.

Meanwhile, the government is considering using areas around the nuclear plant as temporary storage sites for radioactive waste, including debris and sludge left after treating contaminated water at the plant.

The government will further discuss this plan after examining the ministry’s radiation survey, the sources said.

Goshi Hosono, state minister in charge of handling the nuclear crisis, inspected areas within three kilometers of the Fukushima plant Saturday and met with the Okumamachi and Futabamachi mayors. After the meetings, he told reporters Futabamachi residents who lived within three kilometers of the plant would be allowed to make brief home visits Friday, and Okumamachi residents in that area could do so Sept. 1 as scheduled.

In April, Kenichi Matsumoto, an adviser to Kan’s Cabinet, quoted Kan as telling him during a meeting, “People might not be able to live there [near the Fukushima plant] for some time. It could be something like 10 or 20 years.” However, Matsumoto later told media the remark was actually his own.

(Aug. 22, 2011)


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