onagawa, planning, relocation, temporary housing, yomiuri shinbun

6 MONTHS ON FROM MARCH 11 DISASTER / Onagawacho fighting for existence / After losing most buildings, hundreds of lives, town quickly maps out reconstruction, yomiuri, 9/11/11

The Yomiuri Shimbun

ONAGAWACHO, Miyagi–Hard hit by the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, Onagawacho, Miyagi Prefecture, is fighting for its existence.

The disaster destroyed 80 percent of the town’s buildings and left 829 of its residents dead or missing.

The fisheries industry of the town, which had been one of the nation’s largest saury landing sites in terms of volume, was devastated by the disaster.

Onagawacho has lost little time in mapping out a recovery plan–it launched a reconstruction planning committee only 1-1/2 months after the disaster.

The municipal government submitted a reconstruction plan to the town assembly on Sept. 5, less than six months after the earthquake and tsunami and before most disaster-hit municipalities had completed their plans.

The town’s busiest area faced Onagawa Bay. In areas where debris has been removed, buildings with only their walls remaining dot the landscape.

The Onagawa police box, a two-story ferroconcrete building, remains on its side after being ripped from its foundation.

The tsunami reached about 1.5 kilometers inland, and 5,374 or 82 percent, of the buildings in the town were destroyed or badly damaged.

After the disaster, 5,720 people–more than half the town’s residents–moved to 23 evacuation shelters set up in the town. And about 2,600 residents temporarily evacuated to areas outside the town.

“Unless we present a plan for the future quickly, town residents will begin wondering whether they want to continue living here,” said Onagawa Mayor Nobutaka Azumi, 66.

This sense of urgency led the mayor to establish the town’s reconstruction promotion office on April 15.

In the town government office set up in borrowed space of the Onagawa No. 2 Primary School, Azumi encouraged officials, saying, “We’ll send out a message on [restoration] to town residents by the Bon holiday period.”

Since March 11, many of the officials have been extremely busy distributing goods to the shelters.

Residents, too, are taking an active role in their town’s reconstruction.

One resident said: “The administrative authorities were short of staff. The private sector should also work to rebuild our town.”

People in commercial, industrial, fisheries and tourism sectors living in the shelters held a meeting in late March. On April 19, they established the Onagawacho Fukko Renraku Kyogikai (the Onagawacho reconstruction liaison council).

Like other disaster-hit municipalities, Onagawacho has been worried about depopulation for some time.

Even before the disaster, the town’s population had been declining sharply, from 14,018 in 1990 to 10,059 last year. After the earthquake, it stood at 8,686.

Masanori Takahashi, 61, the head of the town chamber of commerce and industry and also head of the reconstruction council, said, “I thought our town would never be able to revive unless we acted quickly.”

Takahashi’s home was destroyed by the tsunami, and the production lines of a fish-processing company he ran were damaged.

But he shared with the town government officials the view a continued outflow of town residents could threaten the town’s existence.

The town’s committee for reconstruction planning comprises three members of the reconstruction council and 14 local representatives, academics and others.

The committee has held five meetings since May 1 and compiled the final draft of the reconstruction plan on Aug. 10.

Under the plan, the town will be divided into eight zones depending on use–including residential areas and facilities for processing marine products.

The time line of the plan calls for repair and redevelopment of residential areas through fiscal 2012, improvement of infrastructure such as fishing ports from fiscal 2013 through fiscal 2015 and full-fledged reconstruction of fish-processing plants and commercial facilities from fiscal 2016 through fiscal 2018.

(Sep. 11, 2011)
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About liz

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

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