UNDER THREAT OF DISASTER

‘Fortunate’ residents’ lives still on hold

by Setsuko Kamiya

DATE, Hokkaido — Most evacuees at the foot of the rumbling Mount Usu have but one wish — to return to their homes and ordinary lives.

But even for those 2,200 “fortunate” residents of Date’s Nagawa district, who were allowed to return home April 2, things just aren’t the same and don’t look likely to be anytime soon.

Nagawa resident Kinji Kato and his family had high hopes last Sunday after leaving the home of relatives in central Date where they had been staying since March 29. At home in Nagawa, located next-door to districts still deemed off-limits, they were greeted by a fallen chimney and a hole in the roof.

Kato, 48, a cab driver, assumes that the damage was caused by a series of earthquakes that followed the eruption on March 31.

Kato experienced Mount Usu’s eruption 23 years ago and said the only damage to the area that time was caused by ash. No one east of the volcano expected quake damage, he said.

“We want to fix the roof, but who knows, there might be another one coming,” he said, adding that his family was prepared to leave their home again if another evacuation order is issued.

Kato said the volcanic activity has brought him a lot of business as a taxi driver, thanks to the numerous media people in the area, but he knows this will not last.

“I’m worried about what will happen, and I want this situation to calm down,” he said.

Tetsuo and Reiko Mikami, both 52, run a restaurant along a highway leading to Abuta, about 200 meters from the police block enforcing its closure. Business, they said, has been devastated.

“Some of our old friends in town drop by to see how we are doing, but basically we have no customers since we resumed business Tuesday,” Reiko said.

“I guess we are lucky that we’ve been able to return to our home, but we may have to evacuate again. And even though we are back, things seem to be getting worse.”

The Mikamis have received lunch box orders from the fire department since Friday, which may help them keep afloat.

“I know that other businesses in the area are having a hard time, but so are we. And our damage won’t be guaranteed,” Tetsuo said.

Convenience store owner Hirotaka Hosokawa said his business has also been suffering, with sales down about 60 percent.

Hosokawa, 48, said he has not only cut back half his merchandise orders but has shortened his business hours by two hours.

“It’s really hard on us, but it’s really up to the volcano,” Hosokawa said. “I know that convenience stores were very useful during the Hanshin Earthquake, so we’re trying to do our best.”