Iwate evacuees apply for housing

RIKUZENTAKATA, Iwate Pref. (Kyodo) This city, one of the hardest hit on the Pacific coast by the March 11 catastrophe, on Saturday became the first municipality in the quake zone to take applications for temporary housing.

Residents are pinning their hopes on a chance to get away from the awkward existence in an evacuation shelter, while others are hesitant about taking the offer, wondering if they should stay on in their hometown after it was flattened by the devastating tsunami.

“We are planning to accommodate all disaster victims hoping to move in,” a Rikuzentakata official said. The local government is planning to determine how many units to build after gauging demand.

The 2010 national census put the Iwate Prefecture city population at roughly 23,300 in about 7,800 households.

The first applicants showed up just after 8:30 a.m. in the municipal office, now located in a prefabricated building.

A 49-year-old woman from the Kesen district said her home was destroyed. “I am hoping we can get a large temporary home because we are a family of six,” she said.

She wants to get a home in Kesen, saying she has grown attached to the neighborhood after living there for years.

Seishichi Terui, 70, said his home was washed away and pleaded with a city official, “I hope you will let us move into a temporary home as soon as possible.”

Many of his neighbors remain missing, Terui said. He evacuated to a junior high school with his wife, Kimiko, 64, taking with them little more than the clothes on their backs.

“There isn’t much freedom” at the shelter, he said.

People will be allowed to live in the temporary homes for up to two years.

Setsuko Kumagai, 70, who lost her home in the Hirota district, where she lived alone, was despondent.

“Even if I could move in, being a pensioner, I would have difficulty making a living after I move out of the temporary housing,” she said.

Some elderly people who had been living alone are planning to start a new life with others. Kiyoko Kikaiwada, 77, who lost her home in the Takata district in the tsunami, wants to share a home with an 86-year-old woman friend who used to live in her neighborhood.

“I would feel lonely if I have to live alone, and I would also feel anxious because my back and knees are bad,” she said.

Mitsuyo Sasaki, 50, living in a shelter with her 54-year-old husband and 9-year-old daughter, said, “We have not made up our mind yet about whether we should apply.”

Sasaki said she is attached to her neighbors and her neighborhood, and is thankful for them for helping her raise her daughter. But having lost relatives in the tsunami, she said she is uneasy.