Home Community Six Months after Kumamoto Earthquakes Japan’s People Still Struggle to Recover

Six Months after Kumamoto Earthquakes Japan’s People Still Struggle to Recover

Peace Winds America with Rumiko, Manami, and Kazuto at one of the pet-friendly temporary housing sites in Mashiki, Kumamoto. Photo courtesy of Peace Winds America

From Peace Winds America

Six months ago Rumiko and her husband faced a difficult decision. In April, two devastating earthquakes, magnitude 6.5 and 7.3, leveled their home in Japan’s Kumamoto prefecture. Not only did they lose their home, but her husband’s business lay buried beneath a mound of rubble. The two were among the 180,000 displaced individuals seeking shelter.

In an Oct. 16 interview with Seattle based non-profit, Peace Winds America, Rumiko described her dilemma. She reached the Mashiki gymnasium evacuation center with a broken right leg, after being pinned beneath a shelf during the disaster. The family owned three dogs.  With all the evacuees seeking shelters, pets were not allowed. If she wanted to stay she would be forced to abandon three of her family members.  Rumiko and her husband slept in their car for the next three months.

Rumiko’s story is not unique. Peace Winds America (PWA) has been working closely in the Kumamoto prefecture with its sister organization Peace Winds Japan. PWA just returned with news from the hardest hit area, Mashiki.  More than 10,000 people are now in temporary housing, with more than 200 evacuees still living in shelters. Others have found places with relatives, some are trying to rebuild homes where they can, others have  moved to other cities and towns leaving their destroyed homes.

The Central and Local Governments have built approximately 4,300 temporary houses.  More will be constructed by the end of the year.  Local officials reported all evacuation shelters will be closed as soon as possible, no later than early December.  Many evacuees want to rebuild their own home in the original location, however, most are unable to afford the cost to haul away the rubble and many are jobless after the damage. The issue of landscape faults lying underneath damaged residential areas further complicates rebuilding.  The land ministry expects to complete an investigation of the exact location of those faults by the end of the year. If the investigation deems a location unsafe, the evacuees will not be able to rebuild and will need to move elsewhere.

Since May/June, Peace Winds has operated two major shelters providing the basic necessities: sleeping units, food, water, toilets, and showers–plus a little bit of comfort with refrigerators, TVs, and air conditioning. Kumamoto’s 100 degree summer days are extremely hot and humid so having an air conditioner was necessary for the evacuees. In addition, the shelter sites had communal kitchens, community room, and study room for student residents to share which provided important social spaces that facilitated communications among evacuees and a sense of normalcy.

In addition to focusing on humanitarian and community aspects, Peace Winds committed to creating pet-friendly shelters. Forced to choose between their pets and shelter, many evacuees chose to live in unstable buildings, individual tents or cars—often for months—rather than be separated from their animals.  Peace Winds provided the solution with pet-friendly shelters for the whole family.

Peace Winds is grateful to its many donors (foundations, companies, and individuals) who helped people like Rumiko. Thankfully, Rumiko, her husband, and their three dogs now have a temporary house to themselves. However Rumiko admitted to reservations, even despair. Without a business and permanent residence, their future is uncertain.

Many issues remain for Kumamoto earthquake victims…paying to move the rubble of their former homes, rebuilding or repairing their damaged houses, restarting their small businesses after losing shops and customers, maintaining a sense of family and community within the temporary housing especially for the elderly and disabled, building playgrounds for the children. For more information including the many supporters, visit peacewindsamerica.org

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The North American Post is a community newspaper that celebrates Japanese culture in the Greater Seattle area. Founded by 1st generation Japanese-Americans in 1902, the publication is one of the oldest minority-owned newspapers in the region. Today, with bilingual articles in English and Japanese, the publication connects readers with diverse cultural backgrounds to Seattle’s Japanese community. Our articles include local news, event calendars, restaurant reviews, Japanese cooking recipes, community interviews, and more.