Japan earthquake leaves ghost towns in its wake
For large swathes of the coast hit hardest by the March 11 Japan earthquake and tsunami, a daunting rebuilding effort is exacerbated by years of falling birth rates and a youth exodus to big cities.
(Page 2 of 2)
These towns have more to contend with than a shrinking workforce. With supply lines and industry disrupted, gas and electricity in short supply, and a population nervous about radiation, town finances are suffering. When the relief efforts turn to reconstruction, the rebuilding required will certainly boost economic activity – though this will inevitably worsen Japan’s already dire public finances.Skip to next paragraph
“After the Kobe earthquake in Japan, the economy had recovered to normal activity levels within a month – though the scale of this is much larger,” says Mr. Hachi of NLI. “It really depends on how badly the electricity supply is damaged by the problems at the nuclear plants. If there are continuing electricity shortages then this will definitely harm the economy.”
Nuclear plants underpin communities
As authorities struggle to cool the overheated reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which is leaking radiation, the merits of nuclear power are being debated here. But discussions have often overlooked how many villages along the northeast coast are almost completely dependent on such power plants, not just for the employment they provide, but for the subsidies they provide as compensation for having the facilities located there.
“Some of the towns around the Fukushima nuclear power plant may also disappear, especially if the situation gets worse there,” he says. “That’s their biggest immediate problem.”
The Onagawa nuclear power station provides such subsidies to Kobura, and the facility – which shut down safely when the earthquake hit – is being used as a temporary evacuation center for locals. However, even the subsidies may not be enough to tempt the local fishermen to rebuild their communities there.
"These towns and villages have been completely destroyed and no one has any idea how long it will take to rebuild them – if they decide to do so at all," says Professor Nishizawa of Tohoku University.
Farther up the coast in Kamaishi City, the decline of the steel industry had already reduced the population by more than half to around 45,000. The city was proud of its Kamaishi Tsunami Protection Breakwater; when completed in 2009, the 6,400-foot long construction was the world’s deepest at 207-feet. The 14 foot tsunami waves rolled over the top of it and destroyed the harbor’s fishing fleet, as well as its boat repair and steel yards.
“I’m not sure this can ever really be rebuilt,” says an old man, his eyes full of tears as he surveys the wreckage of what used to be his waterfront workplace.