Fukushima stress deaths top 3/11 toll

Uncertainties amid nuclear crisis acutely felt by elderly

Kyodo

Stress and other illnesses related to the 2011 quake and tsunami had killed 1,656 people in Fukushima Prefecture as of Wednesday, outnumbering the 1,607 whose deaths were directly tied to disaster-caused injuries, according to data compiled by the prefecture and local police.

A prefectural official said many people “have undergone drastic changes in their lives and are still unable to map out their future plans, such as homecoming, causing increased stress on them.”

Around 136,000 people are still displaced in the prefecture, which has had to cope with the devastating effects of the natural disasters and meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear station.

Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate prefectures sustained the most severe damage from the March 11, 2011, Great East Japan Earthquake.

But it is the death toll from indirect causes in Fukushima — now at more than 1,600 — that has become conspicuous, particularly when compared with Iwate’s 434 and Miyagi’s 879.

Around 90 percent of those who died of indirect causes were aged 66 or older, according to Reconstruction Agency statistics published in September.

The city of Minamisoma had the largest toll, with 447 deaths indirectly blamed on the disaster, followed by 317 in the town of Namie and 225 in Tomioka.

Part of Minamisoma and the entire towns of Namie and Tomioka became designated evacuation zones after the reactor meltdowns that spewed radioactive materials into the air.

The prefecture plans to step up a watch on evacuated residents at temporary housing and private apartments, working together with municipal agencies in an attempt to limit such deaths.

Unlike those caused by collapsed buildings or tsunami, indirect deaths are determined by municipal panels by examining links between the disaster and the cause of death. This occurs when a relative of a deceased files a request.

Causes of indirect deaths include physical and mental stress stemming from long stays at shelters, a lack of initial care as a result of hospitals being disabled by the disaster, and suicides.

Since the quake, the health ministry has provided a yardstick for recognizing disaster-linked deaths based on criteria compiled by Nagaoka in Niigata Prefecture following a magnitude-6.8 earthquake that struck the area in 2004. The ministry said the possibility of indirectly caused deaths rapidly diminishes one month after the disaster.

But given that such deaths are increasing nearly three years after the Fukushima disaster, experts say a new set of criteria may be necessary in order to take into account the effects of the nuclear plant catastrophe.