A hard-hit Japanese city sees signs of hope in road repair, reopened shops
Workers in Ishinomaki, Japan, have cleared thousands of tons of debris from streets and buildings inundated by the March 11 tsunami. A long-time shopkeeper says customers are starting to return.
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“The people who are rent their shops on this street may just give up, but for those of us who own our premises, we have no choice but to try and carry on,” says Takahashi.Skip to next paragraph
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Meanwhile in Sendai...
In nearby Sendai, a city of 1 million – the regional capital of the Tohoku region and the largest metropolis to be hit hard by the March 11 disaster – the local government, businesses, and residents are starting to see some slow progress as well.
Last week, Sendai Airport – where 1,600 people were stranded on the upper floors of its terminal buildings for three days by floodwater after the tsunami – reopened for regular domestic flights. The runways were actually returned to use less than a week after the survivors were rescued, after herculean efforts by US military personnel.
“Basically the US Army cleared the whole place out and ran flights of supplies into the airport around the clock from March 20 to April 8,” explains an airport spokesperson.
“We thought it would take at least three months to get the airport running again [ for civilian flights]. What they did was incredible,” says the spokesperson.
Sendai’s seaport, completely overwhelmed by the tsunami, also reopened with limited capacity on April 16, though it can’t yet handle the kind of large containers needed to bring urgently-needed supplies into the area.
Across Japan, people are comparing the speed of recovery efforts and the slow construction of temporary homes following the March 11 disaster to the Kobe earthquake in 1995, which killed some 6,300 people but had homes built within weeks.
“We face multiple difficulties in getting homes built in the area,” says Yasuo Aramoto, president of Selco Homes, Sendai’s biggest prefab house specialist. “You can’t put houses up in the areas that were flattened by the tsunami, as people think it would be crazy to put them in such vulnerable places again. And the safer ground, like higher up in the hills, has no infrastructure for gas, water, or electricity."
Beyond the logistical issues, fears of contamination from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant 90 miles away are scaring foreign ships’ crews from coming anywhere near the port, despite the fact that radiation readings in Sendai are lower than in many of the cities they are sailing from.
“I currently have a shipment of 2,000 prefab homes on their way from Canada, and I can’t even get the German shipping company which is bringing them to dock in Tokyo because they’re scared about radiation,” says Mr. Aramoto. “They’re now headed for Kobe and I will have to bring them [nearly 500 miles] up by road. It’s ridiculous.”