SENDAI – The number of deaths officially recognized as related to the twin disasters but coming after March 11 has reached 1,331 in five prefectures, exceeding the 921 recorded after the Great Hanshin Earthquake in January 1995.
According to a survey by Kyodo News, 621 of the deaths were in Fukushima, 554 in Miyagi, 133 in Iwate, 22 in Ibaraki and one in Saitama.
The data were collected from the five prefectural governments and municipal governments in the prefectures over the last few weeks.
The total includes a large number of elderly people who died of aspiration pneumonia, as well as suicides and deaths resulting from the stress of living in evacuation shelters. The death of a man in Saitama was attributed to a power outage following the earthquake.
Local governments provide condolence money to relatives when disaster-related deaths are officially recognized, but problems with the screening process have been noted.
There is no uniform criteria set by the central government, which merely informed prefectural and local governments of the standards adopted by the city of Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture, following the powerful Niigata earthquake in October 2004.
As as a result, the survey found a divergence in the recognition of disaster-related deaths.
For example, 90 percent of applications were accepted by the Iwate Prefectural Government but a substantially lower rate of 60 percent were accepted in Miyagi Prefecture.
Tsunami warning signs
In an attempt to reduce deaths in future disasters, signs showing the height of last year’s killer tsunami will be set up in three northeastern prefectures, according to their prefectural governments and the infrastructure ministry.
The Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectural governments and the infrastructure ministry’s Tohoku regional bureau will work on setting up signs with a uniform design near roads, sea embankments and ports to indicate the height of the March 11 tsunami at those points, officials said.
They also plan to put up signs on hills where residents fled from the tsunami and managed to survive, they said.
The blue warning signs will bear a symbol showing a wave in white and a line indicating the maximum height of the tsunami in that area, with the date of the disaster and a message in Japanese indicating the waves reached that level. They will be installed after obtaining residents’ consent.