SENDAI – A groundbreaking ceremony for a public housing project was held on Wednesday in the city of Natori, Miyagi Prefecture, to accommodate local residents displaced by the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.
The project will consist of 42 houses, scheduled to be built by the end of March 2015, and an apartment building designed to accommodate 50 families, scheduled for completion in July 2015.
The project is the first such initiative in the area, which was one of the worst-hit in the disaster. More than 900 Natori residents lost their lives or remain missing.
“I hope we’ll be able to enable the residents to leave temporary housing as soon as possible and provide them with safe and comfortable accommodation,” said Natori Mayor Isoo Sasaki.
The city’s Shimomasuda district, where the complex will be built, is about three kilometers from the coast. The complex will cover an area of about 65,000 square meters. The area, which used to be rice paddies before the 2011 earthquake, was raised two meters to prevent flooding by tsunami.
“Finally we’ve managed to get this project started,” said 63-year-old Manabu Takahashi, who has been representing the community during negotiations to relocate the residents. “Seeing reconstruction work in progress will give hope to the residents.”
Private property owners have also begun to rebuild, with 70 houses scheduled for completion by September.
Meanwhile, for the first time since the catastrophic failure at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March 2011, lisianthus flowers grown within Fukushima Prefecture’s evacuation zone went on sale Wednesday in Tokyo.
The flowers were grown by Yoichi Kanno, 62, from Kawamata, a town southeast of Fukushima city, and were sold at the Ota Wholesale Market in Tokyo’s Ota Ward.
The Yamakiya district, where the flowers were farmed and where Kanno had lived before the disaster, has been designated as an evacuation zone.
Kanno and other flower farmers in Fukushima have continued to grow the flowers in greenhouses within the evacuation zone. While living outside of the zone, they commute in to care for the flowers during designated daytime hours.
This year they resumed growing lisanthius to sell, after flowers grown for testing last year were found to contain no radioactive elements.
“It’s a huge step forward,” Kanno said with a smile. “I believe that if we increase flower production, we may contribute to the reconstruction of the Yamakiya district.”
Some 500 cut flowers, shipped from Yamakiya for the first time in four years, were sold out by noon.
Omorikaki, one of the biggest wholesalers of cut flowers in Japan, purchased pink and violet lisianthus from Kanno and added the flowers to the stock at its stands.
Kanno, meanwhile, said that, compared to previous prices, this year’s flowers sold for about 20 percent less.
“To be honest, I was hoping to sell them at a higher price, but I still feel they are popular,” he said.
Evacuees from the Fukushima nuclear disaster moved to different shelters an average of four times and traveled 273 kilometers during the month after the crisis unfolded in March 2011, a survey showed.
The joint survey by the University of Tokyo and Nagoya University on about 10,000 evacuees showed that they traveled an average of 57 km during their first relocation, mainly to their relatives’ homes or evacuation centers.
Their second attempt to find shelter covered an average distance of 81 km, and they increasingly looked for private rental housing, public housing, hotels and inns, the survey found.
Their third and fourth moves to find shelter within the month were on average 102 km and 112 km, respectively.
Over the year following the meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the evacuees changed shelters 4.9 times on average, according to the survey.
It is the first extensive survey to provide such details about the voluntarily evacuation of Fukushima residents after the nuclear disaster. The results are expected to help local municipalities located around nuclear plants map out their evacuation plans.
According to the survey, 76 percent of evacuees said they or their family members drove their cars to flee the disaster, while 10 percent said they were driven in the vehicles of acquaintances. They spent an average of 51,253 yen ($506) for gas charges, train fare and bus tickets.
As many as 42 percent of the respondents said their family members became separated during the evacuation.
The survey was conducted by a team led by Naoya Sekiya, a special-appointed associate professor of disaster information studies at the University of Tokyo, and Yu Hiroi, an associate professor of urban disaster prevention at Nagoya University.
The education ministry commissioned the survey.
The team sent questionnaires to 41,754 people who left the no-entry zones and other areas affected by the nuclear disaster in March 2012 and received valid response from 10,082.
Hiroi said the evacuees first moved to relatives’ homes but then chose to use rented housing or hotels to avoid becoming a burden on their relatives over a protracted period.
In interviews with some of the evacuees, a woman in her 20s told the team that immediately after the accident, she voluntarily fled from Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, to Hokkaido with her 2-year-old child, leaving behind her husband. She later moved to Niigata Prefecture.
MORIOKA, IWATE PREF. – An updated tsunami evacuation map has been released by officials in the disaster-hit town of Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture, and includes warnings and important safety tips.
The map, available on the town’s official website, was revised based on lessons learned from the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that left about 10 percent of the coastal town’s residents dead.
“Do not return to the lowlands,” says one of the information messages on the map, along with a reminder to prepare an emergency kit with essential items in advance.
When the 2011 tsunami was heading toward the coast, many people in Otsuchi returned home to get belongings or to look for family members, and the lack of preparedness contributed to the large number of deaths in the area.
According to Otsuchi officials, nearly half of the residents of the Ando district were in their homes when the massive tsunami swept them away, believing the disaster would not reach the area.
The officials said the map, which identifies 37 emergency shelters, is aimed at prompting and helping residents to prepare their own communication network and evacuation plan in case their family members are forced to flee separately.
To help those searching for missing people in the event of another 3/11-type disaster, the map advise residents to carry photos of their family members.
“We suggest preparing the latest photos, which could help in the search if the family members get separated,” said Kiyotaka Yamanaka, on loan from the city of Tondabayashi, Osaka Prefecture, and now head of Otsuchi’s crisis management office.
Apart from photos, other easy-to-carry items for emergency kits include personal documents such as insurance policies, water, food, medication, extra cash, batteries and clothes.
The map also bears a stark reminder that nothing can be assumed in the event of a disaster.
“The scale of the tsunami may exceed all expectations and knowledge,” says one of the warnings.
Others state that “the first waves are not necessarily the highest” and “the waves that come ashore may differ from alerts, which are issued based on data from observed sea levels.”
The map was initially created last August and was updated along with revisions to region’s disaster prevention plan.
“I hope residents will use this map to communicate with their relatives how to prepare for tsunami,” said Tetsuo Koshiba, a Kanagawa Prefectural Government official assigned to support the town’s reconstruction efforts and a member of the crisis management office’s.