Japan’s relief effort following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami is shifting to relocating the homeless and assisting residents affected by contamination from a crippled nuclear reactor as food needs are being met.
“We’re in the next phase,” said Atsuko Fujisawa, a spokeswoman for Iwate Prefecture, one of the hardest-hit areas. “We can provide enough calories for them to eat.”
Japan is seeking to resettle as many as 250,000 people displaced by the temblor and tsunami, according to a United Nations report, which so far has left more than 27,000 people dead or missing. The government today set up a special team to assist residents from near the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters.
“We will work on comprehensive assistance for nuclear accident victims,” Edano said. The measures to be taken include removing contamination, transporting goods, monitoring the environment and providing information, he said without providing further details.
The construction of temporary housing has started and officials in Iwate said they began taking applications yesterday. Authorities are also seeking to move victims away from large shelters, where there have been reports of poor sanitary conditions, to inland hotels while homes are built.
As of yesterday about 296 people had accepted offers to move to hotels for about two to three months until they find homes, Fujisawa said.
“There is no time frame for when people can go home,” she said. “Their homes are wiped away.”
Iwate plans to build 8,800 temporary homes, officials have said, while neighboring Miyagi has requested 10,000 housing units from the Japan Prefabricated Construction Suppliers and Manufacturers Association.
Fukushima prefecture began building temporary homes on March 23 and aims to construct 14,000 units with a further 5,000 provided by the private sector.
While a lack of fuel hampered relief efforts immediately following the disaster, the situation has improved with about 80 percent of gas stations in earthquake-affected areas back in operation, economy minister Banri Kaieda said today in parliament. Prime Minister Naoto Kan said the government will take responsibility for “rebuilding victims’ lives.”
The number of dead from the disaster rose to 11,102 with 16,493 missing at 6 p.m. local time today, the National Police Agency said. About 250,000 people are living in more than 2,000 evacuation centers, with others residing in their cars, according to the latest report from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Kan today said for the first time that the tsunami defenses at the damaged nuclear plant in Fukushima, where radioactive emissions have led to evacuations, were inadequate. Radiation leaks don’t pose a health threat beyond a 20 kilometer radius (12.4 miles), he said.
Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s sea wall, designed to withstand a 5.5-meter (18-foot) wave, was breached by a surge estimated by the government to be almost three times higher following the magnitude-9 earthquake.
Leaked nuclear materials that can be fatal for a person exposed for several hours were yesterday detected for the first time outside the reactor buildings. Plutonium traces found in soil pose no threat to workers on site or people close by, Hidehiko Nishiyama, a spokesman at the Japan Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, said in Tokyo today.
Japan ordered Tokyo Electric to increase its monitoring of radiation emissions. Radioactive water lying on the floor of turbine buildings at the No. 2 and No. 3 reactors will be drained and stored in tanks on site, Nishiyama said.