Volunteers prepare to give out food to people in a school gymnasium acting as a shelter for those whose homes were damaged by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, Japan, Sunday, March 20, 2011. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
RIKUZENTAKATA, Iwate — Mixed feelings were in the air as the last people in evacuation shelters here moved into temporary housing units ahead of the shelters’ closure.
On Aug. 11, the five-month anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, the city was to distribute the key to the last completed housing unit, and on Aug. 12 it plans to close all evacuation shelters. At its peak, Rikuzentakata had around 16,000 evacuees across 62 shelters.
On the morning of Aug. 10 at Daiichi Junior High School, which was one of the shelters, there were around 40 people receiving their final relief supplies.
“It was a long experience,” said 52-year-old Kazuya Nakamura. He was waiting for the gas line to his housing unit to be opened, and was planning to move there the next day.
Nakamura’s mother, who went missing in the tsunami, has yet to be found. Nakamura will live in his new home together with his 49-year-old mentally disabled younger brother.
“There have been lots of things I wasn’t happy with, like people who had repeatedly turned down the housing units they were offered to move into before we did. I heard that the elderly and disabled would be given priority, but we weren’t able to move in until now, at the very end.”
Another evacuee, 50-year-old Takeharu Chiba, said, “Things will be hard from now.” His mother and younger sister whom he lived with went missing, and his sister’s daughter was found dead, leaving him alone.
The housing unit he will move into is located at the top of a steep slope and was rejected many times by other evacuees. He was given the key to the unit at the end of July. However, his car was taken by the tsunami, and it took time before he was able to borrow a truck from a friend to move his belongings. He will also have to search for work, as the stone dealer he worked at was washed away by the tsunami and went bankrupt.
“I was worried that if I became isolated (at temporary housing where I knew no one), I would lose myself in alcohol. But someone I know will be in the same group of homes so I think I’ll be OK.”
A 40-year-old assistant nurse was planning to move over the next couple of days into the final group of housing units in the city to have been completed. In preparation for a national nurses’ exam, she has continued to attend a vocational school after work even after the earthquake and tsunami. Since her return to the evacuation center was late at night, she had to be careful not to make loud footsteps.
“That life is finally coming to an end. Still, seeing the computers and air cleaners we shared being so suddenly put away, I feel lonely,” she said.
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(Mainichi Japan) August 11, 2011