An NHK survey has found that the number of evacuees who have died from poor health since the 2011 disaster has topped 3,000.
NHK asked local authorities about the deaths of evacuees as of the end of March. Most victims are believed to have died due to poor health brought on by the fatigue and stress of moving to temporary shelters.
The survey found that 3,076 people have died in 10 prefectures. The number rose by 388 from last year’s figure.
More than a half of all the victims are from Fukushima Prefecture. The number of people who died from poor health was 88 more than those killed by the quake and tsunami.
Many of the Fukushima victims are from municipalities near the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
FUKUSHIMA–Nearly half of households that evacuated following the Fukushima nuclear disaster have been split up while close to 70 percent have family members suffering from physical and mental distress, a survey showed.
The number of households forced to live apart exceeds the number that remain together, according the survey, the first by the Fukushima prefectural government that attempted to survey all households that evacuated.
The results were announced on April 28.
Between late January and early February, Fukushima Prefecture mailed the surveys to 62,812 households living within and outside the prefecture.
Of the 20,680 respondents, 16,965 households, or 82 percent, originally lived in the evacuation zone near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, while 3,683 households, or 18 percent, lived outside the zone but voluntarily evacuated after the nuclear accident unfolded in March 2011.
It was unclear if the remaining 32 households were originally within the evacuation zone.
Some 44.7 percent of the households still lived with all family members at their new homes. The figure included single-person households.
But 48.9 percent of households said their family members now live at two or more locations, including 15.6 percent whose family members are scattered at three or more locations, according to the survey.
The results showed that many households in municipalities near the nuclear plant originally contained many family members, but they were forced to give up living together as their lives in evacuation continued.
Families are often divided over the degree of fear about radiation contamination. Locations of workplaces and schools also split families, while many members end up living in separate temporary housing.
The prolonged life in evacuation, now in its fourth year, is taking a toll. The survey revealed that 67.5 percent of all households had family members showing symptoms of physical or psychological distress.
More than 50 percent said the cause of their ailments was that they “can no longer enjoy things as they did before” or they “have trouble sleeping.”
“Being constantly frustrated” and “tending to feel gloomy and depressed” followed, at over 40 percent.
More than one-third of respondents, or 34.8 percent, said their “chronic illness has worsened” since they entered their lives as evacuees.
MINAMISOMA, FUKUSHIMA PREF. – A municipal hospital reopened in this Fukushima Prefecture city Wednesday, three years after it closed due to the nuclear crisis at Tepco’s Fukushima No. 1 power plant.
The Odaka hospital in Minamisoma is the first permanent medical institution that has reopened in any of the areas near the crippled power plant where the evacuation advisory has yet to be lifted.
There are currently three types of evacuation areas, depending on the degree of radiation an area received after the triple reactor meltdown in March 2011. Citizens are banned from staying at their homes overnight inside these areas.
The Minamisoma government aims to lift the evacuation advisory for much of the city by April 2016. Minamisoma officials hope that reopening the hospital will help accelerate preparations for the eventual return of local residents.
Tomoyoshi Matsumoto, 66, and his wife came to see a doctor shortly after the hospital opened at 8 a.m.
“We live nearby and I feel comfortable because I know some doctors here,” Matsumoto said.
The couple live in Minamisoma, in a provisional home near Odaka. Before the hospital reopened they had to travel two hours to a different institution.
The Odaka hospital will be open three days a week, with four doctors working on shifts. It accepts outpatients with relatively mild symptoms.
Local residents on temporary visits to their homes and decontamination workers are expected to be among the hospital’s patients.
The main building remains unusable due to damage from the March 11, 2011, earthquake, so the hospital reopened in a one-story building that was previously used as a rehabilitation center.
Some businesses, including factories and service stations, have also reopened in the district.
Elsewhere in the prefecture’s evacuation areas, a provisional clinic has opened in the town of Namie, and a second one is expected to be set up in the town of Naraha soon.
The number of people who have died alone at temporary housing facilities for evacuees in Fukushima Prefecture since the Great East Japan Earthquake and Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident reached 34 as of March 31, according to prefectural police data. April 11 marked three years and one month since the 2011 catastrophe.
Prefectural and municipal authorities have reinforced efforts to prevent deaths associated with the disaster, including improvement in the living environment, but the data brought into sharp relief the stark reality of the increase in such solitary deaths among evacuees.
The prefectural police force has no solitary death tally, but Fukushima Minpo reporters counted the number of evacuees living alone and found dead since the disaster. The chart elsewhere shows the number of such deaths each year since 2011 through the end of March 2014. It rose from three in 2011 to 11 in 2012 and 12 in 2013, standing at eight in the first three months of 2014.
Of the 34 deceased, men accounted for 27 and women seven. The male proportion is nearly 80%. By generation, the largest number was those in their 60s at 12 (including one woman), followed by the 70s bracket at eight (all men), the 80s or older category at eight (including six women), the 50s at four (all men) and the 30s at two (both men). People aged 65 or older accounted for 24 (including seven women), or about 70% of the total.
Chart: Changes in number of solitary deaths at temporary housing (light-blue bars indicating men and navy-blue ones women)
(Translated by Kyodo News)
As of the end of January, at least 97 people affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 11, 2011, had died unattended in temporary housing units in disaster-hit Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, information obtained from police headquarters in the three prefectures.
Long periods of evacuee life have caused many people to grow isolated or develop physical or mental problems. Local governments and social welfare organizations are taking measures to keep an eye on such people by mobilizing large numbers of staffers or installing sensors in temporary housing units.
There is no precise definition of the Japanese term kodokushi, meaning “solitary death,” and police do not record statistics on such deaths.
The Yomiuri Shimbun therefore asked the Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectural police about “cases in which people living alone in temporary housing units were found dead in their units” to compile an estimated number of cases.
By prefecture, 47 people were found dead in such conditions in Miyagi Prefecture, 22 in Iwate Prefecture and 28 in Fukushima Prefecture. Men comprised 71 of these people, more than twice as many as women at 26. Among the people who died, 58 were aged 65 or older, accounting for about 60 percent of all the solitary deaths in temporary housing units.
Yoshimitsu Shiozaki, a professor emeritus at Kobe University who is familiar with issues concerning solitary deaths, said of these findings: “Many elderly men cannot cook, so they became unable to maintain a balanced diet as they did before the disaster, or they develop a habit of turning to alcohol to alleviate psychological pain. As a result, they can easily fall ill.”
In the wake of the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, many people died alone and unnoticed in temporary housing units. According to the Hyogo prefectural police, 188 people died unattended in the three years beginning in 1995. Even as Hyogo disaster victims have moved to public disaster reconstruction housing complexes, such cases have continued to occur frequently, with 1,057 people in total having died unattended as of the end of 2013.
In the three prefectures devastated by the March 11, 2011, earthquake, the number of occupied temporary housing units peaked at 48,628. The figure is nearly identical to the peak of 46,617 temporary housing units occupied in the wake of the 1995 Hanshin earthquake.
Comparing on that simple metric, it is possible to conclude that the number of people having died alone and unnoticed after the 2011 disaster has been kept to less than half that after the 1995 earthquake.
However, the number of unattended deaths after the 2011 earthquake has been growing each year, with 16 in 2011, 38 in 2012 and 41 in 2013. If the roughly 61,000 housing units rented by local governments from the private sector were to be included in the calculations, the number of solitary death cases would likely increase.
In November, a woman in her 80s was found dead in a bathtub at a temporary housing unit in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, where she lived alone. It was found that she died close to a week earlier, due to illness.
The same temporary housing facility houses around 220 households who have taken refuge after evacuating from the Fukushima town of Tomioka near the Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
“We thought she had been away visiting her family living nearby,” Nobuo Kawakami, the 70-year-old head of the facility’s residents association, said of the woman.
After the woman’s death, the association has made it a custom to have the 40-odd residents who live alone put up yellow flags near their doors every morning to let their neighbors know that they are well.
“We’ve gotten the consent of residents to use spare keys to enter their rooms if we are unable to contact them for two days,” Kawakami said. “We don’t want to see any more residents die alone.”
In the areas affected by the 2011 disaster, various measures have been taken to prevent people from dying alone.
In Miyagi Prefecture, about 800 people, including those affected by the disaster, have been employed to watch over such elderly people and provide them with assistance. The Iwate Prefectural Council of Social Welfare also has had around 180 people patrolling temporary housing units and informing health workers when they find matters of concern at housing units.
The Sendai city government, meanwhile, has lent mobile phones to disaster-hit residents who live on their own for use in emergencies. It has also equipped the bathroom doors in temporary housing units with sensors to confirm the safety of the residents. The sensors send a signal if they do not detect any movement of the door for more than 12 hours.
However, some residents find these efforts a nuisance. The city social welfare council in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture has halted daily patrols and reduced the number of patrol to once in every three to seven days.
The council checks mailboxes, whether curtains are left open or drawn and other conditions at the housing units of residents who have declined visits by the workers. But Hideo Otsuki, the council’s secretary general, said: “Watching over them from outside the house has its limits. Those affected by the disaster also need to be aware of the risk of dying alone.”