Japan nuclear crisis evacuees face hardship, uncertainty

20110402 in nihonmatsu, setsuko nagahashi from namie



April 5, 2011

Nihonmatsu, Japan (dpa) – Setsuko Nagahashi and her family were holding a funeral at their house near the now-stricken nuclear power station when a powerful earthquake struck the region on March 11.

 “The house shook violently and we were in a state of panic,” Nagahashi recalled.

   In addition to the magnitude-9 quake, tsunami warnings prompted those at the ceremony to flee from the house in Namie Town, near the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, which was crippled by the earthquake and tsunami.

   To her great regret, the family had to leave the remains of her husband‘s father behind, she said tearfully.

   While she had been wracked by guilt, the government evacuation order made the family move from one place to another on the next day.

   The evacuations were ordered in a 20-kilometre radius of the plant while those living 20 to 30 kilometres away were told on March 15 to stay indoors. On March 25, the government asked the latter to voluntarily leave the area, suggesting a lengthy struggle for plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co as it tries to prevent meltdowns.

   Since March 16, Nagahashi and her husband have been staying at a gymnasium in Nihonmatsu City in the prefecture, about 45 kilometres from the plant. Her son finally returned to their house with Japanese soldiers in late March to pick up the remains to be cremated.

   At the gymnasium where 200 other people from the same town are also staying, Nagahashi has been facing many struggles. The couple have to bear the cold weather as they are sleeping near a drafty entrance.

   Nagahashi also said there are no washing machines at the site, so she washes the clothes by hand in a cold wind.

   “It was raining the other day. I had to wash while putting up an umbrella,” she said.

   Volunteers and city officials said the prolonged evacuation means the refugees encounter financial difficulties, lack of privacy and freedom, and even fears of radiation.

   Each of Nagahashi‘s three children has already moved to another place and the couple and their acquaintances remain separated. They were recently told they would be moving to an apartment room or local inn, possibly in another city in the prefecture.

   “I think the next relocation means it will take longer to resolve the problem at the nuclear plant. I wonder when we could go back to our hometown or whether we would ever be able to,” she said.

   “Even if we did finally, could we live in such a contaminated area?”

   It has been about 40 years since Nagahashi moved to Namie to get married.

   “I would proudly tell others my town has good quality rice and that our local vegetables are delicious,” Nagahashi said, adding that she also grew vegetables.

   “We thought our setting was great since it is close to both the seaside and mountains,” she said.

   Another evacuee from Namie, an electrical worker at the nuclear power plant, happened to be taking a day off when the quake hit the region.

   His family lived in an area between 20 and 30 kilometres and their house suffered no damage, he said.

   Since the family were also asked to move to another place, “we don‘t think we will be able to go back in the near future.”

   The electrical worker, who declined to be named, said his priority is to find a job, since he does not think he will work again at the crippled plant.

   As their refugee existence drags on, employment is among the most serious problems, Hiroyuki Matsumoto, a Tamura city official, said.

   Those who were evacuated from the exclusion zone “cannot go home and they cannot work, either,” Matsumoto said. “They make a lot of payments while earning nothing. This is a pressing issue.”