Monday 11 December 2017

Community spirit blooms amidst misery

Peter Foster in Utatsu

TEN days after the tsunami, its victims are still living off meagre rations as Japan struggles to cope with a disaster that stretches along hundreds of miles of twisting coastline.

In the district of Utatsu, 230 miles north of Tokyo, the main road was cut by the tsunami, which washed away the main bridge and destroyed the single-track Kesennuma railway that snaked along the cliffs.

For the first three days, local officials say, they received no outside assistance, and even now, with the road partly restored, they are obtaining food by calling in favours.

"We got this milk from a local farmer as a gift," says one of the volunteer girls. "It's very fresh so we've boiled it in order to try and pasteurise it.

"We have a lot of elderly here and we need to make sure they don't get sick."

Japanese officials are urging as many evacuees as possible to leave the holding centres, to go and stay with family and friends, warning that it will take at least six months to provide temporary accommodation to those who lost their homes.

"We've only managed to get about 10 families out of the prefecture," said Kenichi Kumagai, a 66-year-old former town hall chief who has come out of retirement to help.

"The problem is the lack of fuel and the broken roads make moving people almost impossible."

There was some evidence yesterday that supply shortages are starting to ease -- more trucks were moving on the highway and the area received a consignment of donated clothing -- but for the young and the elderly especially, things can't improve soon enough.

Morale remains remarkably high, however, with now-homeless children managing to have raucous fun, throwing balls and building towers of wooden blocks while the elderly look on, apparently uplifted rather than irritated.

What is the best and worst thing about living in an evacuation centre?

"The best part is that I can play with my friends all day, the worst is that I'm hungry," said 10-year-old Riona Chiba.

Take Sawadate (83) adds: "The most annoying thing is that I didn't have time to pick up my false teeth, but I feel so happy to be saved that I'm convinced now that I'm going to live for a very long time.

"In my whole life I have not seen anything like this, not even during the war. I'm lucky -- I have a relative who brought me some snacks, so I'm not so hungry any more. We will survive this." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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