Many evacuees still in temp housing

The occupancy rate for makeshift housing units set up after the March 2011 mega-quake and tsunami is still at more than 85 percent in the three hardest-hit prefectures as Wednesday marked 1,000 days since the twin disasters struck.

The figure — much higher than in the comparable period after the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995 — is believed to stem from slow progress in clearing highland to construct homes and a poor rate of building public housing.

There are no signs that the situation in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima will improve anytime soon.

At the end of October, occupancy stood at 86.7 percent in the three coastal prefectures, compared with 58.4 percent in the same time frame after the Hanshin quake in the Kobe area.

Iwate had 12,017 temporary housing units, or 86 percent, occupied, while in Miyagi, 19,764 units, or 89.5 percent, had residents. Fukushima’s occupancy rate was 83.7 percent, or 14,065 units.

“We haven’t been making progress in building public housing for disaster victims and acquiring land for projects to relocate entire communities,” an official in charge of temporary housing in Iwate said.

Known for its sawtooth coastline, Iwate has a limited amount of higher ground for new housing.

Fukushima meanwhile is still contending with the nuclear crisis.

“An increasing number of people who moved out and took shelter outside the prefecture are returning to Fukushima and settling in temporary housing,” a prefectural official said.

Within five years after the Hanshin quake, temporary housing was no longer needed there. No prospects are in sight that the Tohoku region will match that fate.

Sakiko, 81, and Yoichi Matsumoto, 83, are living in temporary housing in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, after fleeing Okuma, one of the two towns that host the Fukushima No. 1 plant. They had lived there with their eldest son and his wife.

Yoichi Matsumoto said he and his wife have far fewer chances to see their grandchildren.

“Family members live apart and it’s no good,” he said.

Their old home is located in an exclusion zone with high radiation levels. “Since we can’t go back to our hometown, this is like a living hell,” he said. “Nothing will change even if we complain.”

Masaharu Saito, 50, lives with his mother in prefabricated housing in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture. The thin walls are aggravating. “I hear not just sounds from TV but also plugging and unplugging of electric outlets,” he said. “I’m going crazy.”

His home and his fishery product processing business were washed away in the tsunami. He came to his current home after spending around five months in an evacuation shelter.

Takahiro Abe, a 25-year-old company worker living with his parents in a makeshift home in Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture, lost his family home in the tsunami.

The family is planning to build a new home in an area about 20 meters above sea level, but the land has not yet been cleared and it looks like they will have to wait until March 2016 before a parcel will be available for purchase.

“I don’t know how many more years we need to spend before we get out of temporary housing, but I can’t ask for more when my family is safe and sound,” he said.

Iwate Prefecture has started polling residents to see how long temporary housing has to be maintained in 12 coastal towns and villages.

“There is a strong likelihood that it may take five years or more after the quake to see all occupants move out,” an official said.

In some areas in Miyagi Prefecture, officials are certain that residents will have to put up with makeshift housing until at least 2015 because of slow progress in getting areas on higher ground ready for new housing.

Current rules in Iwate and Miyagi say people must move out after four years, while Fukushima has a deadline of March 2015. Reality may force these periods to be extended.